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Original article

Vol. 153 No. 4 (2023)

Involuntary admissions to the emergency department: a retrospective observational study

  • Nicolas Beysard
  • Xavier Jaquerod
  • Stéphane Morandi
  • Jacques Gasser
  • Pierre-Nicolas Carron
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2023;153:40063


AIMS: The main objective of this study was to describe patients who were involuntarily admitted to the emergency department of Lausanne University Hospital on involuntary admission in 2018 in terms of age, gender, emergency department length of stay, the motive for involuntary admission, use of psychoactive substances, diagnosis, and destination at emergency department discharge, with or without discontinuation of involuntary admission. METHODS: This retrospective, observational, and monocentric study included patients 18 years and older admitted to the emergency department of Lausanne University Hospital on involuntary admission from January 1, 2018, to December 31, 2018. Patients were identified by the Cantonal Medical Office of Vaud. The emergency department length of stay and patient destination on discharge from the emergency department were extracted from the patient flow database, and discharge letters and involuntary admission were extracted from the electronic archiving software. Descriptive statistics were processed by using means and standard deviations for quantitative variables with a normal distribution and median and interquartile range for non-normally distributed data. RESULTS: During the study period, 83 patients were admitted on involuntary admission to the emergency department. The majority of the patients were male (58%) with a mean age of 55 (±20) years. The median emergency department length of stay of patients with an involuntary admission was between 9 and 16 hours, depending on whether the involuntary admission was confirmed or discontinued after patient assessment in the emergency department. In comparison, the median emergency department length of stay was 6 hours for patients overall. The two principal diagnoses described were psychiatric (schizophrenia) and mental and behavioural disorders due to psychoactive substance use. Half of the patients on involuntary admission consumed psychoactive substances, primarily alcohol, and had a mean ethanolaemia of 53 (±32) mmol/l. CONCLUSIONS:Only a third of patients admitted on involuntary admission saw this measure confirmed after their assessment in the emergency department. Involuntary admissions with admission to the emergency department is used to force patients to be examined by an emergency physician or even a psychiatrist. On-call and primary care physicians seemed to lack the time or resources to set up alternatives to emergency department admissions on involuntary admission, especially in situations in which the involuntary admission was discontinued after an emergency department assessment. This demonstrates the inappropriate use of this measure because a patient cannot be involuntarily hospitalised in an emergency department.


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