ECRI: The growing pediatric mental health crisis is 2023's biggest patient safety challenge

The growing youth mental health crisis is the top patient safety concern this year, according to the latest report from ECRI.

ECRI, an independent group tracking the safety, quality and cost-effectiveness of healthcare, releases an analysis each year naming the 10 biggest patient safety issues the industry should be monitoring. Rates of anxiety and depression among children and adolescents have been on the rise since 2017, but the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly accelerated the scope of this crisis, according to the report.

The group cited a recent JAMA Pediatrics study that showed the rate of depression among children and teens aged 3 to 17 grew by 27% between 2016 and 2020. Anxiety rates grew by 29% in the same window.

In addition, recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the average number of weekly emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among adolescents was up 39% in the winter of 2021 compared to winter 2019, ECRI said.

“Even before COVID-19, the impact of social media, gun violence, and other socioeconomic factors were causing elevated rates of depression and anxiety in children,” said Marcus Schabacker, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of ECRI. “The challenges caused by the pandemic turned a bad situation into a crisis. We’re approaching a national public health emergency.”

Here's the full list of concerns for 2023:

  1. Pediatric mental health issues
  2. Verbal and physical abuse against healthcare workers
  3. Challenges facing clinicians amid an uncertain time for maternal and infant health
  4. The effects on clinicians who are working outside of their scope of practice or competencies
  5. Delayed identification and treatment of sepsis
  6. Consequences from poorly coordinated care for patients with complex conditions
  7. Risks associated with failing to look past the "five rights" for medication safety
  8. Inaccurate patient medication lists that cause medication errors
  9. Administering neuromuscular blocking to patients by accident
  10. Preventable harm caused by missed care or treatment

Many of these concerns are only made worse by the ongoing labor issues plaguing providers, ECRI said. For instance, staffing shortages make it harder to address the rising tide of pediatric mental health needs and can make clinicians more vulnerable to violence on the job, according to the report.

“Addressing the healthcare worker shortage will not solve all problems, but it would have a measurably positive effect for providers and patients,” said Schabacker in the release.