Patient and clinician perspectives of a standardized question about firearm access to support suicide prevention: A qualitative study
Richards, J.E., Kuo, E.S., Whiteside, U., Shulman, L., Betz, M.E., Parrish, R., ... Simon, G.E.
Importance: US residents report broad access to firearms, which are the most common means of suicide death in the US. Standardized firearm access questions during routine health care encounters are uncommon despite potential benefits for suicide prevention. Objective: To explore patient and clinician experiences with a standard question about firearm access on a self-administered mental health questionnaire routinely used prior to primary care and mental health specialty encounters. Design, setting, and participants: Qualitative semistructured interviews were conducted from November 18, 2019, to October 8, 2020, at Kaiser Permanente Washington, a large integrated care delivery system and insurance provider. Electronic health record data identified adult patients with a documented mental health diagnosis who had received a standard question about firearm access ("Do you have access to guns? yes/no") within the prior 2 weeks. A stratified sampling distribution selected 30% who answered "yes," 30% who answered "no," and 40% who left the question blank. Two groups of clinicians responsible for safety planning with patients at risk of suicide were also sampled: (1) licensed clinical social workers (LICSWs) in primary and urgent care settings and (2) consulting nurses (RNs). Main outcomes and measures: Participants completed semistructured telephone interviews, which were recorded and transcribed. Directive (deductive) and conventional (inductive) content analyses were used to apply knowledge from prior research and describe new information. Thematic analysis was used to organize key content, and triangulation was used to describe the intersections between patient and clinician perspectives. Results: Thirty-six patients were interviewed (of 76 sampled; mean [SD] age, 47.3 [17.9] years; 19 [53%] were male; 27 [75%] were White; 3 [8%] were Black; and 1 [3%] was Latinx or Hispanic. Sixteen participants had reported firearm access and 15 had reported thoughts of self-harm on the questionnaire used for sampling. Thirty clinicians were interviewed (of 51 sampled) (mean [SD] age, 44.3 [12.1] years; 24 [80%] were female; 18 [60%] were White; 5 [17%] were Asian or Pacific Islander; and 4 [13%] were Latinx or Hispanic) including 25 LICSWs and 5 RNs. Key organizing themes included perceived value of standardized questions about firearm access, challenges of asking and answering, and considerations for practice improvement. Clinician interview themes largely converged and/or complemented patient interviews. Conclusions and relevance: In this qualitative study using semistructured interviews with patients and clinicians, a standardized question about firearm access was found to encourage dialogue about firearm access. Respondents underscored the importance of nonjudgmental acknowledgment of patients' reasons for firearm access as key to patient-centered practice improvement.