Emergency department visits for mental health: an examination of wait times to see a provider
Marsella, Sarah A.
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BACKGROUND: Emergency department (ED) visits for psychiatric issues have grown at a disproportionately higher rate than other visits. This has been attributed to factors including severe cuts in mental health (MH) services and identified as a culprit in ED overcrowding. Little is known, however, about how mental health reason-for-visit (MHRFV) interacts with patient and hospital characteristics to affect wait times to see an ED provider. OBJECTIVE: To determine if wait time (WT) to see a provider at the ED differs for those presenting with MHRFV and how various patient and hospital-level characteristics interact to affect it. METHODS: Data were obtained from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) for visits to EDs throughout the United States. We examined data for patients ≥ 18 years of age who visited an ED in years 2009 and 2010. Patient weights were used to generate national estimates. Patients’ primary reasons-for-visit were used to identify the MH group for analysis and comparison to all other RFVs. Predictors of WT were chosen based on the Andersen Behavioral and ED overcrowding models. WTs were log-transformed for initial bivariate and final multivariate regression models to assure a more normal distribution. RESULTS: Mean WT was 56.5 and 55.8 minutes for MHRFV and all others respectively with a shared median of 31 minutes. As expected with our large sample (n = 47,831), all variables of interest were significantly associated with WT. Adjusting for patient and hospital level characteristics, a multivariate regression revealed that MHRFV prolonged WT by about 50%. After adjustment for independent variables, interactions with MHRFV were tested as the main outcomes of interest. Blacks with MHRFV had WTs 62% longer, patients age 41-64 31% longer, payer status of Medicare/Medicaid or no coverage had WTs about 24% and 14% longer than private insurance. Conversely, patients at government owned hospitals had WTs 145%, and non-profits 42%, lower than private hospitals. CONCLUSIONS: This is the first time that ED WT has been examined in this depth with a sample of patients presenting with MH issues. The results indicate that disparities are more pronounced in this subgroup of ED patients.
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