To the emergency room and back again : circular healthcare pathways for acute functional neurological disorders

Williams, Stefan and Southall, Clea and Haley, Samantha and Ba Dhafari, Thamer and Kemp, Steven and Relton, Samuel D. and Alty, Jane E. and Johnson, Owen and Graham, Christopher D. and Maguire, Melissa (2022) To the emergency room and back again : circular healthcare pathways for acute functional neurological disorders. Journal of the Neurological Sciences, 437. 120251. ISSN 0022-510X (

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Background and objectives: Studies of Functional Neurological Disorders (FND) are usually outpatient-based. To inform service development, we aimed to describe patient pathways through healthcare events, and factors affecting risk of emergency department (ED) reattendance, for people presenting acutely with FND. Methods: Acute neurology/stroke teams at a UK city hospital were contacted regularly over 8 months to log FND referrals. Electronic documentation was then reviewed for hospital healthcare events over the preceding 8 years. Patient pathways through healthcare events over time were mapped, and mixed effects logistic regression was performed for risk of ED reattendance within 1 year. Results: In 8 months, 212 patients presented acutely with an initial referral suggesting FND. 20% had subsequent alternative diagnoses, but 162 patients were classified from documentation review as possible (17%), probable (28%) or definite (55%) FND. In the preceding 8 years, these 162 patients had 563 ED attendances and 1693 inpatient nights with functional symptoms, but only 26% were referred for psychological therapy, only 66% had a documented diagnosis, and care pathways looped around ED. Three better practice pathway steps were each associated with lower risk of subsequent ED reattendance: documented FND diagnosis (OR = 0.32, p = 0.004), referral to clinical psychology (OR = 0.35, p = 0.04) and outpatient neurology follow-up (OR = 0.25, p < 0.001). Conclusion: People that present acutely to a UK city hospital with FND tend to follow looping pathways through hospital healthcare events, centred around ED, with low rates of documented diagnosis and referral for psychological therapy. When better practice occurs, it is associated with lower risk of ED reattendance.