Optimal management of mental health patients in Australian emergency departments: Barriers and solutions

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The study aimed to describe: (i) the perceived barriers faced by emergency clinicians in the assessment and management of patients presenting with a mental health complaint to Australian hospital EDs; and (ii) perceived strategies to optimize care of the mentally unwell in the ED.


Semistructured interviews with open and closed question formats were used to explore the barriers perceived by ED doctors and nurses in assessing and managing patients with mental health presentations. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and thematically coded by two researchers using the Framework Approach.


Thirty-six interviews were conducted with 20 members of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine and 16 members of the College of Emergency Nursing Australasia representing the various Australian jurisdictions. Thematic analyses revealed that a range of resource, environmental, staff and patient factors contribute to difficulties in managing mental health patients. Solutions suggested by interviewees included improved resources, ED redesign and improved links to resources outside the ED. An overwhelming majority of participants perceived the need for more educational opportunities in mental health.


Although the provision of timely and quality care is expected for all patients attending EDs, there exist multiple barriers to provision of adequate care for ED patients presenting with mental illness. Many of these are systems-based and thus require systems-based solutions. ED clinician's perceive that improved educational opportunities in mental health, however, might alleviate some barriers they face. Consideration should be given to a comprehensive, quantitative mental health-related learning needs analysis of ED clinicians.

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