Factors Associated With Emergency Department Use by Patients With and Without Mental Health Diagnoses | Emergency Medicine | JAMA Network Open | JAMA Network
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    Original Investigation
    Emergency Medicine
    October 19, 2018

    Factors Associated With Emergency Department Use by Patients With and Without Mental Health Diagnoses

    Author Affiliations
    • 1Mathematica Policy Research, Oakland, California
    • 2Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California, San Francisco
    • 3Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California, San Francisco
    • 4Alpert Medical School, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
    • 5Public Policy Institute of California, San Francisco
    JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(6):e183528. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.3528
    Key Points español 中文 (chinese)

    Question  What factors are associated with higher emergency department (ED) use among patients with and without mental health diagnoses?

    Findings  This case-control study found that previous hospitalization and high rates of lagged ED visits were associated with higher future ED use. Mild, moderate, and severe mental health diagnoses were associated with increases of 2.9%, 12.1%, and 22.6%, respectively, in ED use.

    Meaning  Prior patient visit patterns and patient illness severity associated with mental health diagnoses could be important contributors to increased ED use.


    Importance  An association between frequent use of the emergency department (ED) and mental health diagnoses is frequently documented in the literature, but little has been done to more thoroughly understand why mental illness is associated with increased ED use.

    Objective  To determine which factors were associated with higher ED use in the near future among patients with and without mental health diagnoses.

    Design, Setting, and Participants  A retrospective case-control study of all patients presenting to the ED in California in 2013 using past ED data to predict future ED use. Data from January 1, 2012, through December 31, 2014, from California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development were analyzed.

    Main Outcomes and Measures  Factors associated with higher ED use in the year following an index visit for patients with vs without a mental health diagnosis.

    Results  Among the 3 446 338 individuals in the study (accounting for 7 678 706 ED visits), 44.6% (1 537 067) were male; 31.6% (1 089 043) were between the ages of 18 and 30 years, 40.3% (1 338 874) were between the ages of 31 and 50 years, and 28.1% (968 421) were between the ages of 51 and 64 years. The mean (SD) number of ED visits per patient per year was 1.69 (2.56), and 29.1% of patients (1 002 884) had at least 1 mental health diagnosis. Previous hospitalization and high rates of lagged ED visits were associated with higher future ED use. The severity of the mental health diagnosis (mild, moderate, or severe) was associated with increased ED visits (incidence rate ratio [IRR], 1.029; 95% CI, 1.02-1.04 for mild; IRR, 1.121; 95% CI, 1.11-1.13 for moderate; and IRR, 1.226; 95% CI, 1.22-1.24 for severe). Little evidence was found for interaction effects between mental health diagnoses and other diagnoses in predicting increased future ED use.

    Conclusions and Relevance  Certain classes of mental health diagnoses were associated with higher ED use. The presence of a mental illness diagnosis did not appear to interact with other patient-level factors in a way that meaningfully altered associations with future ED use.