Introduction: Patient agitation represents a significant challenge in the emergency department (ED), a setting in which medical staff are working under pressure dealing with a diverse range of medical emergencies. The potential for escalation into aggressive behavior, putting patients, staff, and others at risk, makes it imperative to address agitated behavior rapidly and efficiently. Time constraints and limited access to specialist psychiatric support have in the past led to the strategy of “restrain and sedate,” which was believed to represent the optimal approach; however, it is increasingly recognized that more patient-centered approaches result in improved outcomes. The objective of this review is to raise awareness of best practices for the management of agitation in the ED and to consider the role of new pharmacologic interventions in this setting.
Discussion: The Best practices in Evaluation and Treatment of Agitation (BETA) guidelines address the complete management of agitation, including triage, diagnosis, interpersonal calming skills, and medicine choices. Since their publication in 2012, there have been further developments in pharmacologic approaches for dealing with agitation, including both new agents and new modes of delivery, which increase the options available for both patients and physicians. Newer modes of delivery that could be useful in rapidly managing agitation include inhaled, buccal/sublingual and intranasal formulations. To date, the only formulation administered via a non-intramuscular route with a specific indication for agitation associated with bipolar or schizophrenia is inhaled loxapine. Non-invasive formulations, although requiring cooperation from patients, have the potential to improve overall patient experience, thereby improving future cooperation between patients and healthcare providers.
Conclusion: Management of agitation in the ED should encompass a patient-centered approach, incorporating non-pharmacologic approaches if feasible. Where pharmacologic intervention is necessary, a cooperative approach using non-invasive medications should be employed where possible.