New study explores repeat ED visits for adults with developmental disabilities and psychiatric disorders

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New study explores repeat ED visits for adults with developmental disabilities and psychiatric disorders

Toronto, May 16, 2019

By Michael Oliveira

Dr. Anna Durbin
Dr. Anna Durbin

Adults who have both psychiatric disorders and developmental disabilities are more likely to visit the emergency department repeatedly than adults with one of those conditions only, according to a new study by Dr. Anna Durbin, a scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael's Hospital.

The research, part of the H-CARDD (Health Care Access Research and Developmental Disabilities) program, was recently published in the American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

We asked Dr. Durbin about her latest research, which follows up on a study published last year that found one in three adults with developmental disabilities visited the emergency department annually. That study suggested effective primary care could help reduce those numbers.

What did you set out to study?
We know that people with psychiatric disorders and people with developmental disabilities are both more likely to use the emergency department than people with neither condition. We set out to describe what happens after an initial emergency department visit for adults with both psychiatric disorders and developmental disabilities. Specifically, what follow-up care do they receive and do they return to the emergency department more quickly than people who have neither condition, or people who have only one of these conditions.

You found people with both conditions were more likely to have repeat visits to EDs. What do you take away from this learning?
It begs the question of whether there needs to be a different response to adults with developmental disabilities and psychiatric disorders during and after the initial hospital contact.

What is next for your research on this topic?
We are trying to understand more about what happens in the emergency department and help adults with developmental disabilities and psychiatric disorders connect better with the care they need. To do this we are working directly with emergency departments and people in the community.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

About Unity Health Toronto

Unity Health Toronto, comprised of Providence Healthcare, St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital, works to advance the health of everyone in our urban communities and beyond. Our health network serves patients, residents and clients across the full spectrum of care, spanning primary care, secondary community care, tertiary and quaternary care services to post-acute through rehabilitation, palliative care and long-term care, while investing in world-class research and education. For more information, visit

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