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Psychiatric disorders greatly underdiagnosed in hospital emergency departments

WASHINGTON -- New research offers dramatic evidence of how psychiatric disorders are underdiagnosed in hospital emergency departments, affecting an increasing number of Americans who rely on such facilities for much of their primary health care needs. The research appears in this month's issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

In their study involving more than 33,000 Caucasian and African American patients from three hospital emergency departments in the Midwest and South, psychologist Seth Kunen, Ph.D., Psy.D., from the Earl K. Long Medical Center and the Louisiana State University Emergency Medicine Residency Program and colleagues confirm earlier reports that a significant psychiatric underdiagnosis is taking place. The researchers observed a psychiatric rate of 5.27% among the emergency department patients, a rate far below the national prevalence rate of 20% to 28%.

Comparing national rates of various psychiatric disorders versus the observed emergency department rates, the researchers found the following:

  • mood disorders= 4% (national rate) versus 0.70% (emergency department rate)
  • anxiety= 11-16% versus 1.19%
  • substance use disorders = 7% versus 2.05%
  • tobacco use disorder= 25% versus .23%
  • organic psychosis (psychosis due to brain injury or disease)= diagnostic ratios ranging from 3:1 to 25:1 depending on age group and method of estimation
  • schizophrenia= 1.30% versus 0.32%

    Both Caucasians and African Americans were underdiagnosed in the emergency departments, but the study found a much larger underdiagnosis for African Americans. The odds of Caucasians having a psychiatric diagnosis were 1.85 times that of African Americans and almost twice as many Caucasians as African Americans received a psychiatric diagnosis as the primary diagnosis. The researchers say there are several possible reasons for this disparity, including C
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  • Contact: David Partenheimer
    dpartenheimer@apa.org
    202-336-5706
    American Psychological Association
    20-Feb-2005


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