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West J Emerg Med. 2012 Dec;13(6):453-7. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2012.3.6899.

Does targeted education of emergency physicians improve their comfort level in treating psychiatric patients?

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  • 1University of Maryland, Department of Psychiatry, Baltimore, Maryland.



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


We performed a pilot study examining whether an educational intervention would change an EP's comfort level in treating psychiatric boarder patients (PBPs). We identified a set of psychiatric emergencies that typically require admission or treatment beyond the scope of practice of emergency medicine. Diagnoses included major depression, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar affective disorder, general anxiety disorder, suicidal ideation, and criminal behavior. We designed equivalent surveys to be used before and after an educational intervention. Each survey consisted of 10 scenarios of typical psychiatric patients. EPs were asked to rate their comfort levels in treating the described patients on a visual analogue scale. We calculated summary scores for the non intervention survey group (NINT) and intervention survey group (INT) and compared them using Student's t-test.


Seventy-nine percent (33/42) of eligible participants completed the pre-intervention survey (21 attendings, 12 residents) and comprised the NINT group. Fifty-five percent (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 the patients described in the scenarios (P = 0.003). Improvements were noted on separate analysis for faculty (P = 0.039) and for residents (P = 0.012). Results of a sensitivity analysis excluding one highly significant scenario showed decreased, but still important differences between the NINT and INT groups for all participants and for residents, but not for faculty (all: P = 0.05; faculty: P = 0.25; residents: P = 0.03).


This pilot study suggests that the comfort level of EPs, when asked to treat PBPs, may be improved with education. We believe our data support further study of this idea and of whether an improved comfort level will translate to a willingness to treat.

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