Patient suicide risk highlighted by Joint Commission alert

Accreditation Insider, March 1, 2016

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The Joint Commission hopes to address the problem of patient suicides with a new Sentinel Event Alert. There were 1,089 patient suicides logged into the Joint Commission’s Sentinel Event Database between 2010 and 2014; overall, suicides were the 10th leading cause of death in America in 2013, resulting in 41,149 deaths. 

Sentinel Event Alert 56 aims to find the root causes of patient suicides and how to prevent them. The Joint Commission found that a majority of patient suicides could have been prevented with better screening for suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

The Joint Commission recommends that physicians and staff at primary, emergency, and behavioral healthcare facilities create a standardized process of suicide ideation screening. A simple, inexpensive method is to ask on the waiting room questionnaire if a patient is experiencing suicidal thoughts. If the patient answers “yes,” refer him or her for a more in-depth, secondary screening. It’s extremely important to review the questionnaire results before the patient leaves the office.

The report and accompanying infographic also recommend checking each patient’s background for suicide risk factors, such as:

•    Previous suicide attempts or self-inflicted injury
•    Alcohol and drug abuse
•    Mental or emotional disorders, particularly depression and bipolar disorder
•    History of trauma or loss, such as abuse as a child, family history of suicide, bereavement, economic loss
•    Serious illness, or physical or chronic pain or impairment
•    Social isolation or a pattern/history of aggressive or antisocial behavior
•    Discharge from inpatient psychiatric care within the first year after, and particularly within the first weeks and months after discharge
•    Access to lethal means coupled with suicidal thoughts

For more on treating suicide and suicide ideation, click here for The Joint Commission’s infographic on detecting and treating suicide ideation. And click here for Joint Commission requirements involving suicide.

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