It has been two years since COVID-19 arrived, and we are still seeing the after-effects of this virus. The pandemic has morphed from a virus impacting our physical health into a trauma affecting our mental well-being. Parents are suffering the emotional consequences of the many changes to a once steady routine. They have been navigating the roller coaster of transitioning to and from remote work, virtual school, and repeated quarantines.
The instability from the pandemic has also been impacting the mental health of pediatric patients. In response to this issue, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has declared a state of emergency for youth mental health. Developmentally, children, adolescents, and teens thrive from physical contact and social interaction. Prolonged social distancing and isolation due to quarantines have led to an increase in the cases of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality.
Suicide rates have been steadily rising over the last decade. However, since 2020, there have been more emergency room visits for youth mental health crises and suicidal ideation than in years past.
In your pediatric practice, you have no doubt had an influx of patient calls since the pandemic began, but how many calls pertain to mental health concerns? There is a significant stigma associated with mental illness, and many of your patients will not ask for help — or recognize they need help — until they are engaging in self-destructive behaviors. This cycle perpetuates patients going to the emergency room in crisis when they could have received treatment sooner. We agree with the AAP that this needs to change!
Let’s discuss how to encourage your patients to report their mental health symptoms to you before they become life-threatening.
Why Isn’t the Emergency Room a Good Option for Mental Health Crises?
Oftentimes, parents do not know where to turn when their child verbalizes a mental health crisis, and they are left racing to an emergency room. Average hospitals and emergency rooms, especially those without pediatric wings, are not properly equipped to accommodate children. They can be loud, chaotic, and traumatic, adding to a youngster’s already escalating distress.
Inherently, emergency rooms are designed to treat physical emergencies. They are lined with sterile rooms, full of beeping equipment and tangled wires that lack fundamental mental health resources. Research has shown that 84 percent of patients who present at the emergency department with mental illness are discharged without seeing a mental health professional.
In these situations, patients and their parents should be able to access your practice for guidance. Offering mental health triage after hours provides an easily accessible treatment option for your patients.
How Can I Better Serve Patients Who Have Mental Health Concerns?
The healthcare system has had its share of obstacles when it comes to offering feasible treatment options for mental illness. The AAP suggests that in order to advocate for patients, we first need to have effective and financially sustainable models of integrating mental healthcare into primary care pediatrics.
Arguably one of the largest barriers when seeking mental health treatment is the lack of awareness surrounding resources. The American Academy of Pediatrics has called for many healthcare system changes, including an increase in funding for mental health services and preventative measures.
One of the proposed actions is implementing prevention programs in schools, primary care offices, and community centers. These services would aim to reduce the occurrence of suicide in children and adolescents by providing education on the signs, symptoms, early intervention techniques, and treatment options for mental illness.
How Can Anytime Pediatrics Help My Practice Triage Mental Health After Hours?
In order to eliminate the post-pandemic mental health calamities our youth are currently facing, they need to know who their resources are. It’s crucial to inform your patients and their parents that if they find themselves in crisis, even when your office is closed, they can call your exchange and receive life-giving guidance from virtual triage nurses.
How does it work? With Anytime After Hours, your patients and their families have access to highly qualified and experienced registered nurses who utilize Schmitt-Thompson Protocols with every call. If symptoms are not life-threatening, talking with a virtual nurse triage offers stabilization until a provider is available. At that time, the nurse would route the call to you or another pediatrician. It’s also possible to schedule a follow-up appointment in the office or via telehealth.
The virtual triage nurses follow immediate action plans if one of your patients calls and verbalizes thoughts of suicide or self-harm. This might include instructing a family member to call 911 and remaining on the line with the family until emergency responders arrive. The goal is always to safely guide your patients to the appropriate level of mental healthcare.
All triage nurses with the Anytime After Hours platform have at least five years of pediatric emergency experience and are critically aware of the life-saving responsibility they carry. We can guarantee that your patients are receiving immediate attention and appropriate action with every call.
Are you interested in implementing Anytime After Hours for your pediatric practice? Contact us today to request a consultation!