Only About Half of Suicidal Patients Asked if They Have Access to Firearms

March 25, 2016

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark News


A recent study of over 1,300 patients from eight emergency departments (EDs) in seven states showed that only about half of physicians ask suicidal patients whether they have access to firearms or other lethal means. This occurred despite national guidelines that urge ED physicians to ask. With an average of eight percent of patients being admitted to EDs for suicide attempts or ideation, EDs are missing a significant opportunity to intervene and help suicidal patients. It appears that some ED doctors are not convinced about the effectiveness of asking this question, and some don’t know if they should ask or what to do if patients do have firearms. According to Emmy Betz of the University of Colorado School of Medicine and one of the study’s authors, “Lethal means assessment is important for both overall risk assessment and for safety planning for patients being discharged.” In addition, “It is legal and appropriate to ask about this when it is relevant as it is in the case of suicide attempts or suicidal ideation,” said Betz. When doctors know that patients have firearms, they can develop a plan with the patients’ families to lock up the firearms or take them out of the house until the patient’s suicidality has subsided.

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