Practice Economics

HM16 Session Analysis: Stay Calm, Safe During Inpatient Behavioral Emergencies


Presenters: David Pressel, MD, PhD, FAAP, FHM, Emily Fingado, MD, FAAP, and Jessica Tomaszewski, MD, FAAP

Summary: Patients may engage in violent behaviors that pose a danger to themselves or others. Behavioral emergencies may be rare, can be dangerous, and staff may feel ill-trained to respond appropriately. Patients with ingestions, or underlying psychiatric or developmental difficulties, are at highest risk for developing a behavioral emergency.

The first strategy in handling a potentially violent patient is de-escalation, i.e., trying to identify and rectify the behavioral trigger. If de-escalation is not successful, personal safety is paramount. Get away from the patient and get help. If a patient needs to be physically restrained, minimally there should be one staff member per limb. Various physical devices, including soft restraints, four-point leathers, hand mittens, and spit hoods may be used to control a violent patient. A violent restraint is characterized by the indication, not the device. Medications may be used to treat the underlying mental health issue and should not be used as PRN chemical restraints.

After a violent patient is safely restrained, further steps need to be taken, including notification of the attending or legal guardian if a minor; documentation of the event, including a debrief of what occurred; a room sweep to ensure securing any dangerous items (metal eating utensils); and modification of the care plan to strategize on removal of the restraints as soon as is safe.

Hospitals should view behavioral emergencies similarly to a Code Blue. Have a specialized team that responds and undergoes regular training.

Key Takeaways

  1. Behavioral emergencies occur when a patient becomes violent.
  2. De-escalation is the best response.
  3. If not successful, maintain personal safety, control and medicate the patient as appropriate, and document clearly. TH

Dr. Pressel is a pediatric hospitalist and inpatient medical director at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del., and a member of Team Hospitalist.

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