Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is the most effective treatment for major depression. Brief pulse width (BPW; pulse width, 1.0 m/s) ECT is often associated with cognitive impairment. Ultrabrief (UB; pulse width, 0.3 m/s) ECT is better tolerated and causes less cognitive impairment so has been introduced as an alternative. Previous research has shown that more treatments are needed with UB ECT; however, there has not been any previous research into the impact of prescribing UB ECT on length of stay.
This study reports naturalistic data collected from 258 inpatients in a private psychiatric hospital for 2 years since the introduction of UB ECT. Clinician and self-rated scales of depression severity and hospital service data were used to evaluate the number of ECT treatments, length of stay, and efficacy.
Patients prescribed UB ECT had, on average, 10.9 treatments compared to 8.8 for BPW ECT. They also spent more time in hospital; 30.3 days from the first ECT treatment to discharge compared to 24.7 days for patients prescribed BPW ECT. Excluding patients who switched treatments, 54% of patients prescribed UB ECT responded compared to 66.7% of patients prescribed BPW ECT. More patients (n = 42) switched from UB to BPW than from BPW to UB (n = 3). In the 4 years since the introduction of UB ECT, the number of patients prescribed ECT has increased, and the mean number of treatments per patient (for all patients receiving ECT) has increased from 7.7 to 11.6.
Ultrabrief ECT has significant advantages, reflected in the increased use of ECT since UB ECT became available. However, the greater number of treatments and the increased length of stay have important implications for service delivery, costs, and bed accessibility.