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Does Targeted Education of Emergency Physicians Improve Their Comfort Level in Treating Psychiatric Patients?


Introduction: We determined if targeted education of emergency physicians (EPs)regarding the treatment of mental illness will improve their comfort level in treatingpsychiatric patients boarding in the emergency department (ED) awaiting admission.

Methods: We performed a pilot study examining whether an educational interventionwould change an EP’s comfort level in treating psychiatric boarder patients (PBPs). Weidentified a set of psychiatric emergencies that typically require admission or treatmentbeyond the scope of practice of emergency medicine. Diagnoses included majordepression, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar affective disorder, generalanxiety disorder, suicidal ideation, and criminal behavior. We designed equivalentsurveys to be used before and after an educational intervention. Each survey consistedof 10 scenarios of typical psychiatric patients. EPs were asked to rate their comfort levelsin treating the described patients on a visual analogue scale. We calculated summaryscores for the non intervention survey group (NINT) and intervention survey group (INT)and compared them using Student’s t-test.

Results: Seventy-nine percent (33/42) of eligible participants completed the preinterventionsurvey (21 attendings, 12 residents) and comprised the NINT group. Fiftyfivepercent (23/42) completed the post-intervention survey (16 attendings, 7 residents)comprising the INT group. A comparison of summary scores between ‘NINT’ and ‘INT’groups showed a highly significant improvement in comfort levels with treating thepatients described in the scenarios (P = 0.003). Improvements were noted on separateanalysis for faculty (P = 0.039) and for residents (P = 0.012). Results of a sensitivityanalysis excluding one highly significant scenario showed decreased, but still importantdifferences between the NINT and INT groups for all participants and for residents, butnot for faculty (all: P = 0.05; faculty: P = 0.25; residents: P = 0.03).

Conclusion: This pilot study suggests that the comfort level of EPs, when asked to treatPBPs, may be improved with education. We believe our data support further study of thisidea and of whether an improved comfort level will translate to a willingness to treat.[West J Emerg Med. 2012;13(6):453-457]

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