“Are they medically cleared?”
How many times do we hear this?
Usually its from mental health needing a patient to be “medically cleared “ before they go to the ward ( but some inpatient surgical specialties are also good at this)
What are they really asking? They’re asking for a guarantee that the patient will not deteriorate in any way between now and when medical or nursing staff next reviews them.
The really big fear is that there has been a potentially reversible medical illness that has been missed and that a patient with what is essentially a delerium is missed.
Everyone will have an anecdote about how someone deteriorated on the ward 3 days after admission and should have had tests done which would have picked up the fact that they were going to get a delerium 3 days later
Emergency Medicine is about risk stratification.
How likely is this person to be sick or have something that will need a higher level of care than the ward I am sending them to can provide?
We don’t send STEMI’s to a general ward. We send them to CCU.
We shouldn’t send patients with a delerium to a mental health unit
So who does need a workup before they go to the ward ?
Someone , who on history or physical exam demonstrates some “red flags” that show you need to be worried, ie., we are providing a medical screening exam to identify who is at risk. The usual mental health line is to insist that all patients going to a mental health unit have a medical clearance that includes every known blood test under the sun with xrays and sometimes CT scans (and for the results to be back and for the ED to have read them and recorded them)
Someone of course has looked at this and its not like the data is new.
In 1997 Oldshaker and his colleagues published in Academic Emergency Medicine [i] where they retrospectively analysed 345 patients and discovered that if no test shad been done on anyone they would have missed 2 cases of symptomatic hypokalaemia
They all need drug screens!
Oldshaker showed that if you actually ask the patient what they’ve taken then you get 92% sensitivity, a 91% specificity, an 88% positive predictive value (PPV), and a 94% negative predictive value (NPV) for identifying those with a positive drug screen, and a 96% sensitivity, an 87% specificity, a 73% PPV, and a 98% NPV for identifying those with a positive ethanol level.
All this shows is that if you ask the patient what they have taken then they usually tell you!
In my place drug screens come back in 3 days and they only tell you what the patient took anywhere up to a month ago anyway
We need a blood alcohol level/drug level and if its not zero we wont see them
This is also wrong .
My department uses the term “fit for interview”
If , when you talk to them the patient is oriented , alert and co-operative then it doesn’t matter what their level is as you need to take into account their past history. Patients with chronic alcohol use can walk around with high readings and in fact go into withdrawals at low levels.
Someone who took 20 panadol an hour ago with high risk of suicide completion does not need to wait till the bloods are back before mental health review and admission
In 2012 in the journal of Emergency Medicine , again in 519 adult patients , a proper history and physical exam showed that not all patients need routine testing before admission to a mental health facility[ii]
So what about Australia ?
The Emergency Care institute in NSW (with acknowledgement to Dr Sue Ieraci) have looked at this evidence and published a guideline on their website https://resus.com.au/are-they-medically-cleared/
The form they have developed allows you to determine who doesn’t need extensive testing before admission to a mental health unit
This identifies the red flags for a delerium that we all know and sometimes neglect
If someone has a known mental health illness and this is exactly the same presentation as usual with normal vital signs and there is no history of ingestion and the patient does not have an altered level of consciousness then they don’t need any further investigation for a medical screening exam.
All you then need is an actual mental health bed!
[ii] Medical Clearance of the Psychiatric Patient in the Emergency Department. Bruce D. Janiak, MD, Suzanne Atteberry, J Emerg Med. 2012;43(5):866-870