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Managing Acute Behavioural Disturbances in the Emergency Department Using the Environment, Policies and Practices: A Systematic Review


Introduction: Effective strategies for managing acute behavioural disturbances (ABDs) within emergency departments (EDs) are needed given their rising occurrence and negative impact on safety, psychological wellbeing, and staff turnover. Non-pharmacological interventions for ABD management generally fall into four categories: environmental modifications; policies; practice changes; and education. Our objective was to systematically review the efficacy of strategies for ABD management within EDs that involved changes to environment, architecture, policy and practice.

Methods: We performed systematic searches of CINAHL Plus with Full Text, PsycINFO, MEDLINE, and EMBASE, as well as reference lists of relevant review articles to identify relevant studies published between January 1985 - April 2016. We included studies written in English, which reported management of behavioural disturbances in adults associated with the ED through the use of environmental modifiers (including seclusion, restraint, specialised rooms, architectural changes), policy, and practice-based interventions excepting education-only interventions. Efficacy outcomes of interest included incidence, severity, and duration of ABD, incidence of injuries, staff absenteeism, restraint use, restraint duration, and staff and patient perceptions. Two reviewers independently screened titles and abstracts, and assessed the relevancy and eligibility of studies based on full-text articles. Two authors independently appraised included studies. A narrative synthesis of findings was undertaken.

Results: Studies reporting interventions for managing ABDs within the ED are limited in number and quality. The level of evidence for efficacy is low, requiring caution in conclusions. While there is preliminary evidence for environmental change in the form of specialised behavioural rooms, security upgrades and ED modifications, these are not supported by evidence from controlled studies. Many of these “common sense” environmental changes recommended in many guidelines have been widely implemented in EDs.

Conclusion: There is an unambiguous gap in the literature regarding the efficacy of interventions for ABD management in EDs involving environmental, policy or practice-based changes. With growing demand on EDs, and with increasing numbers of ABDs, identification of robust evidence-based interventions for safe and effective ABD management is vital.

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