Quality & Patient Safety

Use a screening program to improve suicide prevention

Briefings on Accreditation and Quality, May 1, 2016

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Suicides were the third most common sentinel event of 2015, with 95 reported cases in 2015's Sentinel Event Statistics. The total number of patient suicides reported to The Joint Commission is now up to 1,184 since the start of the decade.

That said, only 2% of sentinel events are reported to The Joint Commission, and the cases reported are only the ones that occurred inside a healthcare facility or within 72 hours of discharge. Nationally, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, with 9.3 million adults having suicidal thoughts, 1.3 million attempting suicide, and 41,149 deaths in 2013. In addition to the loss of life, suicides cost $51 billion in combined medical and work costs annually.

In February, The Joint Commission released Sentinel Event Alert 56 (www.jointcommission.org/sea_issue_56) to highlight the detection and treatment of suicidal patients. The accreditor found that 21.4% of accredited behavioral health organizations and 5.14% of accredited hospitals are noncompliant with National Patient Safety Goal 15.01.01, which focuses on suicide prevention. The alert calls on healthcare facilities to improve suicide prevention compliance by establishing suicide screening programs (SSP) to identify at-risk patients.

Universal screening

Many hospitals fall short in screening for suicidal ideation, if they screen at all, says Julie Goldstein, PhD, director of health and behavioral health initiatives at the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) for the past three years. She also leads the organization's Zero Suicide Initiative.

Industry attitudes toward suicide screening have changed, Goldstein says.

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