Many patients who commit suicide in the hospital have no history of suicide attempts -- but they do exhibit risk factors that physicians need to be aware of.
The Joint Commission has issued a Sentinel Event Alert to help improve suicide prevention in medical/surgical units and the emergency department (ED) by assuring that “patients outside of psychiatric units are appropriately screened and cared for.”
While psychiatric settings are designed to be safe for suicidal individuals and have staff with specialized training, typically, medical/surgical units and EDs are not designed or assessed for suicide risk and do not have staff with specialized training to deal with suicidal individuals, according to the Joint Commission. Not surprisingly, suicidal individuals often are admitted to general hospitals immediately following suicide attempts, or they seek help in hospital emergency departments when they are most desperate.
According to the Alert—which offers an update to previous guidelines issued in 1998—many patients who kill themselves in general hospital inpatient units do not have a psychiatric history or a history of suicide attempt. In the general setting, there is also more access to items that can be used to attempt suicide, and more opportunities for the patient to be alone to attempt or re-attempt suicide.
With that in mind, the Joint Commission is providing strategies that can be used and suggested actions that can be taken by general hospitals to help better prepare their staffs and their facilities for suicidal patients and to care for both their physical and mental needs.
Screening for suicide risk:
Intervening to prevent suicide in those patients with increased risk of suicide:
To read the Joint Commission Sentinel Alert in its entirety, click here.
Do you believe the physicians and other health care professionals at your facility are properly trained to screen for suicide in patients and intervene if necessary?
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