Behavioral Health Ambulance Calls

The prevailing conventional wisdom about ambulance service calls is that most trips involve transporting people with major trauma wounds, or those needing immediate emergency care for serious conditions like cardiac arrest. Despite those perceptions, the data tells us the reasons for calls to emergency squads for transportation are quite varied. And if national statistics are an indication, it stands to reason that an increasing number of calls are likely for behavioral health issues. In the past 10 years, the national rate of mental health or substance abuse-related emergency department (ED) visits has increased by 44.1 percent. The most significant rise (414.6 percent increase) of such emergency visits is associated with people experiencing suicidal thoughts. Overall, the number of emergency room visits nationally increased 14.8 percent from 2006-2014. That rate is more than twice the rate of the nation’s population growth during the same period. In Virginia, the Virginia Department of Health’s (VDH) Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS) tabulates pre-hospital information about people transported by local emergency squads. VHHA and OEMS have agreed to examine pre-hospital information as an indicator of adequacy of behavioral health access. While the jury is still out on whether the number of transports is a valid indicator, the initial data shows patients are most likely to be transported to hospital emergency rooms for behavioral health services due to a variety of behaviors observed and described by responding ambulance squad members, who are not necessarily clinical diagnosticians. Ambulance squads around Virginia on a daily basis transported approximately 115 patients with behavioral health issues to hospital emergency rooms, according to the six months’ worth of data available. (12/1)

Figure 1: Ambulance Calls for Behavioral Health Issues (Source: OEMS Virginia Pre-Hospital Information Bridge, March-August 2017)
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