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Somatoform disorders (SDs) consist of a group of psychiatric conditions that cause unintentional physical symptoms suggestive of a general medical condition. SDs specifically addressed in this chapter include somatization disorder, undifferentiated somatoform disorder, conversion disorder, pain disorder, hypochondriasis, body dysmorphic disorder, and somatoform disorder not otherwise specified. There are general similarities among the different somatoform disorders that may help guide a healthcare provider's evaluation. There are inherent difficulties to evaluating SD patients in the emergency department (ED) which may contribute to both patient and physician discontent. Stronger treatment alliances with healthcare providers form if patients do not feel blamed for producing their unintentional symptoms. A treatment alliance can start in the ED, but ideally continues with inpatient or outpatient mental healthcare professionals or other specialists. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and antidepressant medication have each demonstrated success in treating patients with SDs.
In October 2007, San Diego County experienced a severe firestorm resulting in the burning of more than 368,000 acres, the destruction of more than 1,700 homes, and the evacuation of more than 500,000 people.
The goal of this study was to assess the impact of the 2007 San Diego Wildfires, and the acute change in air quality that followed, on the patient volume and types of complaints in the emergency department.
A retrospective review was performed of a database of all patients presenting to the Emergency Departments of University of California, San Diego (UCSD) hospitals for a six-day period both before (14–19 October 2007) and after (21–26 October 2007) the start of the 2007 firestorm. Charts were abstracted for data, including demographics, chief complaints, past medical history, fire-related injuries and disposition status. As a measure of pollution, levels of 2.5 micron Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) also were calculated from data provided by the San Diego Air Pollution Control District.
Emergency department volume decreased by 5.8% for the period following the fire. A rapid rise in PM2.5 levels coincided with the onset of the fires. The admission rate was higher in the period following the fires (19.8% vs. 15.2%) from the baseline period. Additionally, the Left Without Being Seen (LWBS) rate doubled to 4.6% from 2.3%. There was a statistically significant increase in patients presenting with a chief complaint of shortness of breath (6.5% vs. 4.2% p = 0.028) and smoke exposure (1.1% vs. 0% p = 0.001) following the fires. Patients with significant cardiac or pulmonary histories were no more likely to present to the emergency department during the fires.
Despite the decreased volume, the admission and LWBS rate did increase following the onset of the firestorm. The cause of this increase is unclear. Despite a sudden decline in air quality, patients with significant cardiac and pulmonary morbidity did not vary their emergency department utilization rate. Based on the experience at UCSD, it appears that significant wildfires like that seen in 2007, only may marginally affect emergency department operations, and may not require significant changes to normal staffing levels.
In October 2003, San Diego County, California, USA, experienced the worst firestormin recent history. During the firestorm, public health leaders implemented multiple initiatives to reduce its impact on community health using health updates and news briefings. This study assessed the impact of patients with fire-related complaints on the emergency medical services (EMS) system during and after the firestorm.
A retrospective review of a prehospital database was performed for all patients who were evaluated by advanced life support (ALS) ambulance personnel after calling the 9-1-1 emergency phone system for direct, fire related complaints from 19 October 2003 through 30 November 2003 in San Diego County. The study location has an urban, suburban, rural, and remote resident population of approximately three million and covers 4,300 square miles (2,050 km2). The prehospital patient database was searched for all patients with a complaint that was related directly to the fires. Charts were abstracted for data, including demographics, medical issues, treatments, and disposition status.
During the firestorm, fire consumed >380,000 acres (>938,980 hectares), including 2,454 residences and 785 outbuildings, and resulted in a total of 16 fatalities. Advanced life support providers evaluated 138 patients for fire related complaints. The majority of calls were for acute respiratory complaints. Other complaints included burns, trauma associated with evacuation or firefighting, eye injuries, and dehydration. A total of 78% of the injuries were mild. Twenty percent of the victims were firefighters, most with respiratory complaints, eye injuries, or injuries related to trauma. A total of 76% of the patients were transported to the hospital, while 10% signed out against medical advice.
Although the firestorm had the potential to significantly impact EMS, pre-emptive actions resulted in minimal impact to emergency departments and the prehospital system. However, during the event, therewere a number of lessons learned that can be used in future events.
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