October 20, 2011

By Fran Lowry

BOSTON (Reuters Health) Oct 19 - Pediatric visits to the emergency department for mental health care continue to rise, especially among children who are uninsured, according to new research presented here at the 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference and Exhibition.

Dr. Zachary E. Pittsenbarger of Children's Hospital Boston and his team analyzed data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) to identify psychiatric visits.

They found that between 1999 and 2007, 279 million pediatric patients were seen in U.S. emergency departments, including 2.8% who came for psychiatric care.

The prevalence of psychiatric visits among pediatric patients increased from 2.4% in 1999 to 3% in 2007 (p=0.03 for trend).

Underinsured children accounted for 46% of the pediatric psychiatry emergency visits in 1999; by 2007 this had risen to 54%, the research team reported in a presentation October 14th.

"Often these patients have limited outpatient options for their continuity of care for psychiatric or mental health indications, and my belief is that that's why they're coming into the emergency department. It is not because they feel that this is the best place for care, it's because they have no other options. They're at the end of their rope," Dr. Pittsenbarger told Reuters Health.

"I'd like to shine a light on the fact that these people are coming in with increasing frequency all the time. Hopefully we will be able to alert people to the fact that, for so many people in this country, the options for good mental health care just do not exist."

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