For Residents

Proactive consultation: A new model of care in consultation-liaison psychiatry

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During my residency training, I was trained in the standard “reactive” psychiatric consultation model. In this system, I would see consults placed by the primary team after they identified a behavioral issue in a patient. As a trainee, I experienced frequent frustrations working in this model: Consults that are discharge-dependent (“Can you see the patient before he is discharged this morning?”), consults for acute behavioral dysregulation (“The patient is near the elevator, can you come see him ASAP?”), or consults for consequences of poor management of alcohol/benzodiazepine withdrawal (“The patient is confused and trying to leave”).

As a fellow in consultation-liaison (C-L) psychiatry, I was introduced to the “proactive” consultation model, which avoids some of these issues. In this article, which is intended for residents who have not been exposed to this new approach, I explain how the proactive model changes our experience as C-L clinicians.

The Behavioral Intervention Team

At Yale New Haven Hospital, the Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) is a proactive, multidisciplinary psychiatric consultation service that serves the internal medicine units at the hospital. The team consists of nurse practitioners, nurse liaison specialists, social workers, and psychiatrists. The team identifies and removes behavioral barriers in the care of hospitalized mentally ill patients.

The BIT collaborates closely with the medical team through formal and informal consultation; co-management of behavioral issues; education of medical, nursing, and social work staff; and direct care of complex patients with behavioral disorders. The BIT assists the medical team with transitions to appropriate outpatient and inpatient psychiatric care. The team also manages the relationship with the insurer when a patient requires a stay in a psychiatric unit.

This model has a critical financial benefit in reducing the length of stay, but it also has many other benefits. It focuses on early recognition and treatment, and helps mitigate the effects of mental or substance use disorders on patients’ recovery. BIT members educate their peers regarding management of a multitude of behavioral issues. This fosters extensive informal collaboration (“curbside consultation”), which helps patients who did not receive a formal consult. The model distributes work more rationally among different professional specialists. It yields a relationship with medical teams that is not only more effective, but also more enjoyable. In the BIT model, psychiatrists pick the cases where they feel they can have the most impact, and avoid the cases they feel they cannot have any.1-3

CASE A better approach to alcohol withdrawal

Mr. X, age 56, has a history of alcohol use disorder, hypertension, and coronary artery disease. He’s had multiple past admissions for complicated alcohol withdrawal. He is transferred from a local community hospital, where he had presented with chest pain. His last drink was 2 days prior to admission, and his blood alcohol level is <10 mg/dL.

During Mr. X’s previous hospitalizations, psychiatric consults were performed in the standard reactive model. The primary team initially prescribed an ineffective dosage of benzodiazepines for his alcohol withdrawal. This escalated his withdrawal into delirium tremens, after which psychiatry was involved. Due to this early ineffective management, the patient had a prolonged medical ICU stay and overall stay, experienced increased medical complications, and required increased staff resources because he was extremely agitated.

Continued to: During this hospitalization...

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