Identifying Behavioral Health Needs Is A Top Patient Safety Concern for Health Care Providers

Being able to identify behavioral health needs early is a top patient safety concern for health care providers, a new survey asserts.

The ECRI Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes best practices for health care providers, published the results on its annual list of top 10 patients safety concerns.

For 2020, ECRI declared early recognition of patients’ behavioral health needs as the third biggest patient safety concern for health care providers, even bigger than sterilization and fragmentation of care.


The only concerns that ranked higher on the list were missed or delayed diagnoses and maternal health issues.

ECRI noted that, when it comes to interactions between health care workers and patients who may have behavioral health issues, there is often a level of unease and uncertainty. In some instances, these patients can be aggressive, causing health care workers to raise their guard.

“Addressing these issues means recognizing patients’ behavioral needs sooner and more efficiently,” the report stated. “It also means reframing the conversation with providers.”


The report implores providers and their staff to keep in mind that threats and increased aggression from patients towards caregivers do not automatically indicate that patients are mentally ill.

“We don’t always want to say that violence is due to people who are mentally ill,” Nancy Napolitano, an NCRI patient safety analyst and consultant, said in the report. “That message has to be loud and clear.”

The report recommends that more providers educate their workers about mental illness, along with training and retraining staff to deal with mental health concerns.

It also advocates for behavioral health assessments for patients during their stay, as well as for providers to conduct drills to equip staff to deal with potentially problematic patients and to develop a more sensitive approach toward mental health.

“We have these innate reactive responses to perceived dangerous situations,” Napolitano added in the report. “Education and awareness can help stop caregivers’ reactive responses, and let them think and act rationally.”

The survey was conducted before the recent outbreak of COVID-19, and in a letter accompanying the report, ECRI noted that it has already become one of the top patient safety concerns of the year.