Suicide screening scales have been advocated for use in the ED setting. However, it is currently unknown whether patients classified as low-risk on these scales can be safely discharged from the emergency department. This study evaluated the utility of three commonly-used suicide screening tools in the emergency department to predict ED disposition, with special interest in discharge among low-risk patients.
This prospective observational study enrolled a convenience sample of patients who answered “yes” to a triage suicidal ideation question in an urban academic emergency department. Patients were administered the weighted modified SADPERSONS Scale, Suicide Assessment Five-step Evaluation and Triage, and Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale. Patients who subsequently received a psychiatric evaluation were included, and the utility of these screening tools to predict disposition was evaluated.
276 subjects completed all three suicide screening tools and were included in data analyses. Eighty-two patients (30%) were admitted or transferred. Three patients (1%) died by suicide within one year of enrollment; one was hospitalized at the end of his or her enrollment visit, dying by suicide seven months later and the other two were discharged, dying by suicide nine and ten months later, respectively. The screening tools exhibited modest negative predictive values (range: 0.66–0.73).
Three suicide screening tools displayed modest ability to predict the disposition of patients who presented to an emergency department with suicidal ideation. This study supports the current ACEP clinical policy on psychiatric patients which states that screening tools should not be used in isolation to guide disposition decisions of suicidal patients from the ED.