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Few ER Doctors Ask Suicidal Patients About Firearm Access

Finding points to missed chances to intervene before it’s too late, researcher says

MONDAY, March 28, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Only half of suicidal patients in U.S. emergency departments are asked if they have access to guns, according to a study published online March 17 in Depression and Anxiety.

Emmy Betz, M.D., M.P.H., from the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, and colleagues interviewed 1,358 emergency department patients in seven states who had either attempted suicide or were thinking about it. The investigators also examined the patients’ medical charts.

“We found in about 50 percent of cases there is no documentation by the doctor that anyone asked the patients about firearms access. That means there is a large group of patients we are missing a chance to intervene for,” Betz said in a university news release. About 25 percent of the patients who had guns at home said they kept at least one gun loaded and unlocked. Half said they had easy access to guns, which puts them at increased risk for suicide in the future.

About 8 percent of all emergency department patients are admitted to the hospital for either attempting suicide or thinking about it. That shows the important roles emergency departments play in suicide prevention, the researchers said. “Multiple emergency department visits appear to be a risk factor for suicide, and many suicide victims are seen in the emergency department shortly before death,” the researchers said in the news release. “Based on models using national suicide statistics, emergency department-based interventions might help decrease suicide deaths by 20 percent annually.”

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