To examine the demographic and clinical characteristics of children using the pediatric emergency department (ED) in a medical center in Baltimore, Maryland. The rate of admission and length of stay for children who were evaluated in the ED were also examined.
A large, urban medical center with approximately 15,500 visits per year.
During a 13-month period, more than 600 visits to the ED were made for mental health concerns for children aged 2 to 18 years, with psychiatric visits constituting more than 5% of total visits to the ED. Psychiatric visits averaged more than 5 hours’ duration in the ED and involved significant effort by medical staff, with approximately one half of visitors undergoing psychiatric admission. Interviews conducted with the ED staff revealed that addressing psychiatric problems in children is a considerable burden and that there is a general lack of resources within the ED and the surrounding community to respond to the needs of children with psychiatric emergencies.
The challenge in most communities is to build a true system of care that involves proactive and more preventive care in natural settings, such as schools, and coordination and improvement of care for youth with more serious problems.