Psychiatr Q. 2022 Sep 5. doi: 10.1007/s11126-022-10000-z. Online ahead of print.
Psychiatry has experienced a rapid expansion in providing behavioral health services using virtual means; however, little is known regarding clinicians’ experience in managing patient emergencies during virtual encounters. We present survey data from a large academic psychiatry department designed to better understand safety planning while delivering ambulatory tele-behavioral health services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Clinical faculty in the department were sent an anonymous electronic survey developed and distributed using the Qualtrics™ software. Departmental leadership provided a list of clinicians who performed ambulatory care. SAS 9.4 was used to conduct statistical analysis for associations between variables. Approximately one quarter (23.3%) of respondents engaged in proactive safety planning for most of their outpatient virtual visits, while a little over half (53.2%) of clinicians implemented emergent safety planning between just one to five visits. Clinicians who more frequently implemented emergency protocols were more likely to engage in proactive safety planning prior to emergencies (p = 0.0115). 10.8% of participants petitioned for civil commitment, though those that did identified numerous challenges. Our results reinforce the importance in appropriate training regarding best practices while providing tele-behavioral health care, with increased awareness for conducting safety planning and implementing emergent protocols. Furthermore, while petitioning for civil commitment is a relatively low base rate event in a large outpatient practice, these data and narrative feedback help to outline challenges and potential measures to improve this process for all parties. Increased attention to protocols and procedures are key as the utilization of virtual care within psychiatry continues.