Incorporating suicide screening and assessment tools into the nation’s electronic health record (EHR) systems would help make screening a standard practice in the United States and ensure that patients at risk of suicide are identified, assessed, and connected to lifesaving care.
EHRs are digitized versions of a patient’s health data that include information such as medical histories, lab and imaging data, and medication and immunization records. These vital records then enable the patient and health care provider to engage in secure, critical, and instant data sharing. EHRs are routinely used to proactively screen for various health-related conditions such as substance use concerns and daily physical activity levels and can similarly be used to screen for suicide risk.
In 2015, for example, Parkland Hospital in Dallas—one of the largest public hospital systems in the nation—implemented a universal systemwide suicide screening program; its EHR system was a vital part of the initiative. Specifically, leaders embedded a clinical decision support application—a tool that providers use to guide care—in the EHR system to display reminders in each patient’s file until such screening was complete and providers could deploy appropriate follow-up care quickly and efficiently for each patient without misusing or overusing resources. To date, Parkland has screened nearly 4 million patients; approximately 2.3% of those who screened positive for suicide risk would have gone unrecognized without these interventions.
Making screening a routine part of health care can improve suicide prevention efforts nationwide. To achieve this aim, screening and assessment tools should be incorporated into and accessible via EHRs. Doing so would help streamline and standardize clinical workflows, ensure compliance with protocols, and allow better data collection—all of which have the potential to improve overall suicide screening and care coordination and, ultimately, save lives.
Farzana Akkas works on The Pew Charitable Trusts’ suicide risk reduction project.