Psychiatric emergency? What to consider before prescribing

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Psychiatric emergencies—such as a patient who is agitated, self-destructive, or suicidal—may arise in a variety of settings, including emergency departments and inpatient units.1 Before emergently prescribing psychotropic medications to address acute psychiatric symptoms, there are numerous factors a clinician needs to consider.1-3 Asking the following questions may help you quickly obtain important clinical information to determine which medication to use during a psychiatric emergency:

Age. Is the patient a child, adolescent, adult, or older adult?

Allergies. Does the patient have any medication allergies or sensitivities?

Behaviors. What are the imminent dangerous behaviors that warrant emergent medication use

Collateral information. If the patient was brought by police or family, how was he/she behaving in the community or at home? If brought from a correctional facility or other institution, how did he/she behave in that setting?

Concurrent diagnoses/interventions. Does the patient have a psychiatric or medical diagnosis? Is the patient receiving any pharmacologic or nonpharmacologic treatments?

First visit. Is this the patient’s first visit to your facility? Or has the patient been to the facility previously and/or repeatedly? Has the patient ever been prescribed psychotropic medications? If the patient has received emergent medications before, which medications were used, and were they helpful?

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