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More Children Visiting ERs for Psychiatric Care

Lack of mental health resources might drive the increase, study says

FRIDAY, Oct. 14, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- A growing number of American children are receiving psychiatric care in hospital emergency departments, particularly children who have no insurance or are covered by Medicaid.

That's the finding of a new study that examined 279 million visits made by children to U.S. emergency departments from 1999 to 2007.

During that time, the rate of psychiatric visits increased from 2.4 percent to 3 percent. Underinsured children accounted for 46 percent of those visits in 1999 and 54 percent in 2007.

The findings, slated to be presented Friday at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in Boston, are important for a number of reasons, according to study author Dr. Zachary Pittsenbarger.

As expected, the results show that psychiatric visits by children to emergency departments continue to increase.

"A second, and more novel finding, is that one group in particular is increasing beyond any other socio-demographic group, and that is the publicly insured," Pittsenbarger said in an AAP news release.

"It has been found previously that the publicly insured have fewer treatment options and longer wait times for psychiatric disorders when not hospitalized," he noted. "This new finding argues that limited outpatient mental health resources force those patients to seek the care they need in the emergency department."

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about child and adolescent mental health.

SOURCE: American Academy of Pediatrics, news release, Oct. 10, 2011
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