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Combat Rising Emergency Department Admissions with Behavioral Health Integration

Rising Emergency Department Admissions: A Cause for Concern

The number of admissions and readmissions to the emergency department (ED) for behavioral health services has seen rapid growth in the past several years. This rise has not only significantly increased healthcare costs, but it continues to have a negative impact on the quality of life of patients, their families and the overall community.1,2

Impact of Reoccurring ED visits

Repeat admissions to the ED for the same medical condition aren’t common among the majority of cases. However, that is not the case for most behavioral health admissions.

In fact, 1 in 5 patients presenting to the ED for a mental health concern have a repeat visit within six months. Half of all mental health related hospital admissions and 60% of hospital discharges are associated with repeat ED visits for the same or similar complaints.1

Although these repeat ED visitors account for a small number of ED patients (4.5 to 8%), they comprise of 21 to 28% of all ED visits – and therefore have a higher likelihood of experiencing an acute psychiatric illness in the future.1

What Do These Rising Admissions Cost the Hospital?

ED care costs are roughly 2-5X higher than that of primary care. Some reports note as much as $8.3 billion has been spent on avoidable ED admissions annually.3 Because of this, it is critical for hospitals to implement strategies to overcome current ED hurdles to mitigate unnecessary costs and streamline operations.

If adequate behavioral health resources are placed within hospitals across the nation, EDs have the potential to experience over $4 billion in annual cost savings.3 A win-win for the patient, ED, hospital and community.

Behavioral Health Integration: Improving ED and Additional Hospital Operations

To help understand the impact behavioral health integration has on the rate of ED admissions, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) conducted an analysis of 26 studies with that specific focus in mind. Of those studies, 96% reported positive outcomes following the introduction of behavioral health best practices – specifically, reduced ED admissions/readmissions and decreased hospital administrative burdens.1

Similar outcomes can be seen in another report, as one Oklahoma health system reported significant improvements in their patient outcomes and readmission risk following the integration of a behavioral health program. Specific outcomes for their adult patient population included:4

      • Reduced inpatient hospitalizations by 100% (from 841 in 2015 to 0 in 2021).
      • Reduced inpatient bed days by 100% (from 1,115 in 2015 to 0 in 2021).

Implementing a behavioral health program enables hospitals to provide comprehensive care to members in their community devoid of an initial ED admission. This not only improves patient experience and outcomes, but it also reduces the risk of readmission and costs associated with an ED visit.

Additionally, when a behavioral health program is present alongside other post-acute offerings, such as inpatient rehabilitation, those experiencing both mental and physical illnesses can receive prompt treatment without the need for transfer.

Contact us to learn why partnership may be the best solution to help address the growing behavioral health need in your community, and how your local ED can begin to see cost savings.


  • Mao, W., Shalaby, R., & Agyapong, V. I. O. (2023, April 18). Interventions to reduce repeat presentations to hospital emergency departments for Mental Health Concerns: A scoping review of the literature. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  • Theriault, K., Rosenheck, R., & Rhee, T. (2020, July). Increasing emergency department visits for mental health conditions in the United States. The Journal of clinical psychiatry.
  • Mulrooney, L. (2022, December). Reducing "avoidable" ed visits for mental health could cut billions in costs, improve patient outcomes. AJMC. Retrieved January 19, 2023, from
  • Sullivan, D. (2023, August). How grand mental health reduced psychiatric inpatient hospitalizations by 93%. Advisory Board.



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