Experience of emergency department use among persons with a history of adverse childhood experiences
Purkey, E., Davison, C., MacKenzie, M., Beckett, T., Korpal, D., Soucie, K., & Bartels, S.
Background: Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are associated with increased morbidity and mortality, lower levels of distress tolerance, and greater emotional dysregulation, as well as with increased healthcare utilization. All these factors may lead to an increased use of emergency department (ED) services. Understanding the experience of ED utilization among a group of ED users with high ACE scores, as well as their experiences as viewed through the lens of a trauma and violence informed care (TVIC) framework, could be important to their provision of care.
Methods: This is the qualitative portion of a larger mixed methods study. Twenty-five ED users with high ACE scores completed in depth interviews. Thematic analysis of the interview transcripts was undertaken and directed content analysis was used to examine the transcripts against a TVIC framework.
Results: The majority of participants experienced excellent care although challenges to this experience were faced by many in the areas of registration and triage. Some participants did identify negative experiences of care and stigma when presenting with mental health conditions and pain crises, as did participants who perceived that they were considered “different” (dressed differently, living in poverty, young parents, etc.). Participants were thoughtful about their reasons for seeking ED care including lack of timely access to their family doctor, perceived urgency of their condition, or needs that fell outside the scope of primary care. Participants’ experiences mapped onto a TVIC framework such that their needs and experiences could be framed using a TVIC lens.
Conclusions: While the ED care experience was excellent for most participants, even those with a trauma history, there existed a subset of vulnerable patients for whom the principles of TVIC were not met, and for whom implementation of trauma informed care might have a positive impact on the overall experience of care. Recommendations include training around TVIC for ED leadership, staff and physicians, improved access to semi-urgent primary care, ED patient care plans integrating TVIC principles, and improved support for triage nurses and registration personnel.