Cases That Test Your Skills

Command hallucinations, but is it really psychosis?

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After her mother died when Ms. D was 19, she began to have nightmares of wanting to hurt herself and others and began experiencing multiple hospitalizations. In 2010, Ms. D was referred to an assertive community treatment (ACT) program for individuals age 16 to 27 because of her inability to participate in traditional community-based services and her historical need for advanced services, in order to provide psychiatric care in the least restrictive means possible.

Despite receiving intensive ACT services, and in addition to the numerous inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations, over 7 years, Ms. D accumulated 8 additional general-medical hospitalizations and >50 visits to hospital EDs and urgent care facilities. These hospitalizations typically followed arguments at home, strained family dynamics, and not feeling wanted. Ms. D would ingest large quantities of prescription or over-the-counter medications as a way of coping, which often occurred while she was residing in a step-down facility after hospital discharge.

The authors’ observations

The treatment team decided to transition Ms. D to an LTSR with full continuum of treatment. While some clinicians might be concerned with potential iatrogenic harm of LTSR placement and might instead recommend less restrictive residential support and an IOP. However, in Ms. D’s case, her numerous admissions to EDs, urgent care facilities, and medical and psychiatric hospitals, her failed step-down facility placements, and her family conflicts and poor dynamics limited the efficacy of her natural support system and drove the recommendation for an LTSR.

Previously, Ms. D’s experience with ACT services had centered on managing acute crises, with brief periods of stabilization that insufficiently engaged her in a consistent and meaningful treatment plan. Ms. D’s insurance company agreed to pay for the LTSR after lengthy discussions with the clinical leadership at the ACT program and the LTSR demonstrated that she was a high utilizer of health care services. They concluded that Ms. D’s stay at the LTSR would be less expensive than the frequent use of expensive hospital services and care.

EVALUATION A consensus on the diagnosis

During the first few weeks of Ms. D’s admission to the LTSR, the treatment team takes a thorough history and reviews her medical records, which they obtained from several past inpatient admissions and therapists who previously treated Ms. D. The team also collects collateral information from Ms. D’s family members. Based on this information, interviews, and composite behavioral observations from the first few weeks of Ms. D’s time at the LTSR, the psychiatrists and treatment team at the LTSR and ACT program determine that Ms. D meets the criteria for a primary diagnosis of BPD. Previous discharge diagnoses of schizoaffective disorder–bipolar type (Table 11), schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder could not be affirmed.

Schizoaffective disorder vs borderline personality disorder

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