Published on in Vol 7 (2023)

Preprints (earlier versions) of this paper are available at, first published .
Reduction of Mental Health–Related Emergency Department Admissions for Youth and Young Adults Following a Remote Intensive Outpatient Program: Quality Improvement Analysis

Reduction of Mental Health–Related Emergency Department Admissions for Youth and Young Adults Following a Remote Intensive Outpatient Program: Quality Improvement Analysis

Reduction of Mental Health–Related Emergency Department Admissions for Youth and Young Adults Following a Remote Intensive Outpatient Program: Quality Improvement Analysis

Original Paper

1Charlie Health Inc, Bozeman, MT, United States

2Center For Applied Research and Educational Improvement, University of Minnesota, Saint Paul, MN, United States

3College of Social Work, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, United States

Corresponding Author:

Kate Gliske, PhD

Charlie Health Inc

233 East Main Street

Suite 233

Bozeman, MT, 59715-5045

United States

Phone: 1 19523341411


Background: Pediatric mental health emergency department (ED) visits are increasing at 6% to 10% per year, at substantial cost, while 13% of youth with psychiatric hospitalizations are readmitted in the following weeks. Hospitals do not have the resources to meet escalating youth’s mental health needs. Intensive outpatient (IOP) programs, which provide multiple hours of care each week, have the power to reduce the number of patients in need of hospitalized care and provide a step-down option for patients discharging from ED’s in order to prevent readmissions.

Objective: The purpose of this program evaluation was to assess (1) whether youth and young adult ED admission rates decreased following participation in a remote IOP program and (2) whether there were differences in readmission rates between youth and young adults by gender identity, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity.

Methods: Data were collected from intake and 3-month postdischarge surveys for 735 clients who attended at least 6 sessions of a remote IOP program for youth and young adults. Patients reported if they had been admitted to an ED within the previous 30 days and the admission reason. Over half (407/707, 57.6%) of clients were adolescents and the rest were young adults (300/707, 42.4%; mean age 18.25, SD 4.94 years). The sample was diverse in gender identity (329/687, 47.9% female; 196/687, 28.5% male; and 65/669, 9.7% nonbinary) and sexual orientation (248/635, 39.1% heterosexual; 137/635, 21.6% bisexual; 80/635, 10.9% pansexual; and 170/635, 26.8% other sexual orientation) and represented several racial (9/481, 1.9% Asian; 48/481, 10% Black; 9/481, 1.9% Indigenous; 380/481, 79% White; and 35/481, 7.2% other) and ethnic identities (112/455, 24.6% Hispanic and 28/455, 6.2% other ethnic identity).

Results: Mental health–related ED admissions significantly decreased between intake and 3 months after discharge, such that 94% (65/69) of clients with a recent history of mental health–related ED admissions at IOP intake reported no mental health–related ED admissions at 3 months after discharge from treatment (χ21=38.8, P<.001). There were no differences in ED admissions at intake or in improvement at 3 months after discharge by age, gender, sexuality, race, or ethnicity.

Conclusions: This study documents a decrease in ED admissions between intake and 3 months after discharge among both youth and young adults who engage in IOP care following ED visits. The similar outcomes across demographic groups indicate that youth and young adults experience similar decreases after the current tracks of programming. Future research could conduct a full return-on-investment analysis for intensive mental health services for youth and young adults.

JMIR Form Res 2023;7:e47895




The youth and young adult mental health crisis has reached a state of emergency, according to the US General Surgeon [1]. The rate of emergency department (ED) use among youth experiencing mental health issues has increased 6% to 10% per year in the United States over the past decade, far exceeding historical national trends and outpacing the rise in nonmental health related pediatric ED visits [2]. Costs of care have also escalated [3], and pediatric mental health hospitalizations cost US $2 billion per year on average from 2006 to 2011 [4]. Further, there is concern that this increase in ED use for pediatric mental health reasons has only increased preexisting health disparities that affect historically disadvantaged communities such as marginalized racial and ethnic groups; those relying on public health insurance; and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual community [2,5].

Rise in Mental Health Related ED Utilization Rates

Pediatric mental health ED visits have been increasing for many years. Lo and colleagues [6] found that between 2007 and 2016, pediatric mental health ED visits rose 60%, while general pediatric ED visits remained unchanged. Similar increases were found in 2 additional studies of national data sets between 2006 and 2015, finding increases ranging from 48% to 54% [7,8]. The proportion of ED visits for mental health conditions further increased following COVID-19 [9].

Faced with escalating needs for mental health care, hospitals have insufficient resources to efficiently meet the needs of youth who go to the ED for mental health crises. The length of ED visits has increased, while the length of stay for other pediatric ED visits remained stable or increased only slightly [2,10]. In 2020, a large pediatric hospital noted that more than half of pediatric patients who visited the ED with a mental health concern needed to wait more than 2 days in the ED before being discharged, admitted, or transitioned to another facility [11], which is double the wait time of the previous year. During ED visits for mental health concerns, many youth never receive a mental health evaluation, likely due to limited staffing and inadequate evaluation protocols [12]. Approximately 30% of youth who visit the ED for a mental health concern are admitted to a hospital for psychiatric care [12,13], though researchers suggest many of these cases might have been managed with outpatient treatment if such resources were available [13]. The surge in ED visits and the challenges in meeting youth’s needs in the ED highlight both increasing youth’s mental health needs as well as the current lack of sufficient community mental health resources to address these needs [14].

Hospital Readmissions


Many of these pediatric mental health ED visits are repeat visits by the same youth, whose mental health needs have not been adequately addressed. In a meta-analysis of youth’s psychiatric hospitalizations, 13.2% of youth were readmitted during the follow-up period [15]. The national average state hospital psychiatric readmission rates for young adults are in a similar range, with a 30-day civic readmission rate of 7.8% and a 180-day readmission rate of 15.6% [16]. Most readmissions occurred within 90 days of initial admission [17].

The costs of psychiatric hospital readmissions are substantial, as hospital costs for readmissions for mental health disorders are 22% higher than first admissions [18]. The Health Care Cost Institute [19] calculated the average price of a mental health admission as US $9879 (US $11,305 in 2023 dollars after adjusting for medical inflation using the US Bureau of Labor Statistics annual medical inflation rates [20]). Charges and costs of care vary widely by payer and by disorder. A thorough review of costs, charges, and payments for inpatient psychiatric treatment in community hospitals found that charges ranged from US $8393 for a stay for depression treatment for an uninsured client to US $20,937 for a schizophrenia treatment stay for a client on Medicaid in 2006 [21]. The exacerbation of illness [22], inadequate treatment during the hospital admission, and limited access to outpatient treatment are frequently cited as factors leading to readmission [23].

Factors Impacting Youth’s Readmissions

Clinical severity is predictive of readmission, more so than sociodemographic characteristics. Previous suicidal ideation and psychotic disorders are associated with increased risk of readmission, as well as prior hospitalization and discharge to residential services [15]. Similarly, individuals with comorbid conditions have a higher risk of readmission [24-26]. In a meta-analysis of pediatric psychiatric readmission, demographic variables, such as gender and age, did not have a direct effect on readmission [15,27], although 1 study concluded that demographics may interact with other variables [15]. Additional research is needed on gender nonconforming youth; in this meta-analysis, no studies reported data for gender nonbinary youth [15].

Follow-up services, such as outpatient psychiatric care, are considered a critical piece of transitioning away from inpatient care. However, studies of outpatient services’ impact on readmissions have had conflicting results. For example, in a study of commercially and publicly insured adults with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, outpatient visits after discharge were associated with a lower rate of hospital readmission [28]. While other studies have also found outpatient visits were associated with lower readmission [29-31], several studies have found outpatient services associated with higher rates or risk of readmission [32-34], while one found no difference [35]. Given these conflicting findings, it is likely that outpatient care interacts with other factors to influence readmission. A study of case management services after discharge found that timing was so critical that each 1 day of delay indicated a 0.4% increased likelihood for earlier readmission [25].

While nearly all research has focused on adult populations, a recent study looked more closely at youth’s outpatient care, linking it to a lower likelihood of psychiatric readmission for youth overall. The relationship between outpatient care to readmissions differed by the length of hospital stay—youth with shorter hospital stays were more likely to be readmitted when they received aftercare. However, youth with longer stays and aftercare were less likely to be readmitted [34]. Another key factor was the intensity of aftercare services (eg, number of hours or sessions), but this has been understudied. Receiving more hours of aftercare, particularly day treatment, was associated with a lower risk of rehospitalization within 6 months [36].

Intensive Outpatient Programs as a Solution to Escalating Need

Intensive outpatient (IOP) care, provided for multiple hours every week, is 1 option to reduce the number of patients at risk for readmissions for mental health conditions through the provision of appropriate step-down care for youth as they are discharged from the hospital [14,37]. A growing research base on youth’s IOP programs demonstrates significant symptom reduction and improved functioning [38-40].

Only 1 study to our knowledge has specifically assessed IOP services and readmission; in an analysis of all 11,473 adult IOP program services in Connecticut, individuals who completed at least a minimally adequate dosage of care had significantly lower rates of readmission [41]. Similarly, when an intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy protocol was implemented for 50 adult patients with possible anxiety or somatization concerns, their ED visits reduced by 69% [42]. The preliminary research base on mental health IOP care effectiveness in reducing health care costs for adult clients is promising [43,44]. To our knowledge, no research has assessed IOP services and youth’s readmission. Additional research is needed, particularly on the role of intensive services in addressing the escalating youth’s mental health readmission rates.

Present Evaluation

The purpose of this program evaluation was to assess (1) whether youth and young adult ED admission rates decreased during participation in a remote IOP program and (2) whether there are differences between youth and young adults in readmission rates. This evaluation is part of ongoing routine outcomes monitoring to identify opportunities for quality improvement in care. Identifying current readmission rates is necessary to determine need for future quality improvement, and investigating differences by age, gender, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity will allow for tailoring resources as necessary.

Client and Program Characteristics

The data for this program evaluation come from Charlie Health, a national remote IOP program for adolescents and young adults with high acuity mental and behavioral health needs. Charlie Health was operational in 18 states during the data collection period for clients included in this analysis.

Charlie Health serves a high-acuity population of youth that commonly present with primary depression and anxiety, as well as numerous co-occurring mental and behavioral health challenges. Many clients present with significant histories of trauma and step down to IOP care from a higher level of care. Recognizing the challenges associated with committing to an IOP program that requires 9 hours of group participation and optional individual and family sessions, Charlie Health provides group options during daytime and evening hours. Clients are assigned to a group “track” that is reflective of identity (ie, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, or asexual; gender; or age) or primary presenting issue (ie, trauma or suicidal ideation). A group comprises three 50-minute group sessions for 3 days each week wherein clients are exposed to process, experiential (ie, art therapy), and skills groups. The latter is facilitated within an evidence-based practice shown to be effective with the primary issue (ie, dialectical behavioral skills for suicidal ideation). The ability to tailor groups to identity and issue is predicated on the importance of group cohesion to therapeutic change.

The current analyses included youth who were discharged from care between September 1, 2022, and November 30, 2022. In order to assess treatment efficacy in reducing ED admissions, inclusion criteria permit the use of client cases that completed treatment or experienced a treatment episode disruption (ie, disengagement and discharge against clinical advice). However, in order to ensure adequate treatment dosage, the Charlie Health evaluation team only included cases where clients completed at least 2 weeks of treatment and 6 IOP sessions. Optimal doses of therapy range between 4 and 26 hours [45]. Although scarce research has examined optimal doses for samples with severe mental disorders [45], clients require longer treatments for a larger magnitude of change [46]. The inclusion criteria for this study were based on an early systematic review suggesting 18 hours of therapy for the average patient to reach positive outcomes [47]. As such, the results of the following analyses can only be generalized to clients that completed intake and 3-month postdischarge surveys and met the minimal engagement threshold (N=735). This program evaluation focuses on quantitative survey questions regarding ED admissions; other qualitative client responses are provided in other publications [48].

Ethics Approval

This research was approved by the Florida State University institutional review board as “non-human subjects research” given its primary purpose of conducting program evaluation (STUDY00003364).

Data Collection Procedures

The data came from treatment surveys that were distributed to clients during their first remote IOP session (“intake”) and 3 months after their last IOP session (“3-month postdischarge”). Data were collected using an electronic survey that is distributed to clients by Charlie Health staff. When clients arrived at their first remote IOP session, they were sent to a room where a staff member provided them with a link to the survey. At 3 months, clients were emailed and texted a link to the survey and provided reminders to complete the survey for up to 4 weeks, at which point the survey closed.



Clients were asked at intake and 3 months after discharge if they were admitted to an ED within the previous 30 days. Clients were then asked to select from a list of reasons why they were admitted.

General ED Admissions

To compare intake and 3-month postdischarge changes in ED admissions, the dichotomous question about whether clients have been admitted to an ED in the past 30 days was used to assess pre- or postchange.

Mental Health–Related ED Admissions

Mental health–related ED admissions were operationalized as clients that reported an ED admission and provided a reason related to mental or behavioral health. Reasons included suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, physical altercation, self-harm, substance abuse, or eating disorder. Clients that provided no reason or selected the “other” option were classified as “general ED admissions.”

Data Preparation

In order to conduct the analyses for this evaluation, a new variable was created to identify clients that had mental health–related admissions (defined below). In addition, demographic characteristics were used to assess significant differences on intake ED admissions that would need to be considered in the main analyses. In order to create this variable, 2 variables were combined: (1) a general question about ED admissions in the last 30 days (0=no and 1=yes) and (2) a reason for admission (7-item multiple-choice question where responses 1 through 6 listed mental or behavioral health reasons and 7 is an “other” option). First, the general ED admission question was transformed to remove cases with missing data on this question. Second, the ED admission “reason” variable was recoded into a dichotomous variable: 0=general ED admission and 1=mental health–related reason. The variables were combined wherein clients with a score of “0” were classified as “no ED admission,” clients with a score of “1” were classified as a “general ED admission,” and clients with a score of “2” were classified as having a “mental health–related ED admission.”

Data Analysis Strategy

Descriptive Statistics

Descriptive statistics were run to better understand the distribution of demographic characteristics including age group (adolescent and young adult), gender identity, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity. Descriptive information was also provided on reasons for ED admissions for those clients that reported an intake or 3-month postdischarge ED admission and includes disclosed information about the reason (intake: n=177 and 3 months after discharge: n=88).

Outcomes Analysis

McNemar tests were used to assess significant change in general and mental health–related ED admissions from intake to 3 months after discharge. McNemar test was designed to assess differences in proportions between 2 paired samples of data, such as pre- and posttest study designs where data are collected from the same subjects before and after an intervention [49].

Sample Characteristics

During this study’s period, 1714 clients were discharged from programming. Of the total population of discharging clients, 71.4% (1223/1714) met the engagement threshold of attending at least 6 sessions in programming. Of clients who did not meet the engagement threshold, 71.3% (350/491) were discharged within a week of starting IOP programming.

Missing Data

Nearly two-thirds (735/1223, 60.1%) of clients who reached the minimum threshold for engagement completed a discharge survey, resulting in a final sample size of 735 clients. For the analysis of recurrence of ED visits at 3 months after discharge, clients were only included in the 3 months sample if they (1) reported an ED visit in the 30 days prior to admission to programming, and (2) completed a 3-month postdischarge survey. Of the 177 clients who met the former criteria, 88 completed a 3-month postdischarge survey (response rate=49.7%). Due to the voluntary nature of the surveys for quality improvement, many client responses on demographics were missing. Missing data for demographic variables ranged from 3.9% (29/735) missingness on age to 38% (279/735) missingness on ethnicity. Cases missing data were deleted listwise.

A series of analyses compared those included in analyses with those who were discharged during the same period prior to completing 6 sessions or without completing a discharge survey. There were no significant differences between the 2 groups regarding gender (χ2783=5.2, P=.07), sexual orientation (χ2767=1.9, P=.59), or ethnicity (χ2534=1.0, P=.62). Significant differences were detected regarding race (χ2767=15.2, P=.004) and age (mean 1.11, 95% CI –1.62 to –0.56 years; 2-tailed t1261.63=–4.03, P<.001). However, the effect size was small for both (race: ϕ=0.16 and age: Cohen d=0.22).

Client Demographics

The median age of client cases in this sample was 18.25 (SD 4.94) years, wherein 57.6% (407/707) of the sample were adolescents (aged 11-17 years) and 42.4% (300/707) were young adults (older than the age of 18 years). Almost half (329/687, 47.9%) the sample identified as female, followed by male (196/687, 28.5%), and nonbinary (65/669, 9.7%). More than one-third (248/635, 39.1%) of the sample identified as “heterosexual or straight,” nearly a quarter (137/635, 21.6%) identified as “bisexual,” 10.9% (80/635) identified as “pansexual,” and 26.8% (170/635) identified as some other sexual orientation identity (eg, gay, lesbian, or queer). The majority (380/481, 79%) of the sample identified as White, followed by Black (48/481, 10%), Indigenous People Around the World (9/481, 1.9%), and Asian (9/481, 1.9%), while 7.2% (35/481) identified as some other racial identity. Nearly a quarter (112/455, 24.6%) of the sample identified as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish Origin, while 69.2% (315/455) did not and 6.2% (28/455) identified as some other ethnic identity. Table 1 shows the distribution of mental and behavioral health reasons for ED admissions at intake and 3 months after discharge.

Table 1. Reasons for EDa admissions at intake and 3 months after discharge.
VariableIntake3 months after discharge
Reason provided, n/N (%)177/696 (25.4)11/88 (12.5)
Reason for ED admission (intake: n=177; 3 months after discharge: n=11), n (%)

Suicidal thoughts58 (34.3)3 (27)

Suicide attempt51 (30.2)1 (9)

Physical altercation6 (3.6)0 (0)

Self-harm17 (10.1)0 (0)

Substance use5 (3)0 (0)

Eating disorder7 (4.1)2 (18)

Other25 (14.8)5 (45)

Mental health related144 (81.4)6 (54.5)

aED: emergency department.

Demographic Correlates of Readmission

There were no statistically significant differences found on pretreatment ED admissions by age group, with a similar proportion of adolescent clients (111/401, 27.2%) reporting pretreatment ED admissions compared to young adults (66/295, 22.4%; χ21=2.5, P=.11). To investigate potential differences in change in ED visits over time by developmental stage, an improvement variable was created by subtracting the 3 months follow-up admission scores (0=no and 1=yes) from the pre-ED admission score (0=no and 1=yes). Clients with a score of “0” were classified as “not improved,” while clients with a score of “1” were classified as “improved,” representing cases that reported a preadmission ED visit and no ED admission at 3 months after discharge. The sample was restricted to only those clients that reported an intake ED admission and had completed a 3-month postdischarge survey (n=88). The results of the chi-square analysis indicated that there were no significant differences in the proportion of adolescent clients (41/50, 82%) and young adult clients (36/38, 95%) that improved from intake to 3 months after discharge (χ21=3.2, P=.07). Furthermore, there were no other significant differences found by demographic characteristics of ethnicity, race, gender, or sexual orientation (all P>.05; Table 2).

Table 2. Other demographic differences in EDa admissions at intake and improvement.
VariableED admissions at intakeImprovement in admissions between intake and 3 months follow-up
No, n/N (%)Yes, n/N (%)χ2 (df)P valueNo, n/N (%)Yes, n/N (%)χ2 (df)P value
Ethnicity0.4 (1).53
3.2 (1).07

Hispanic or Latino23/32 (73)9/32 (27)

4/40 (10)36/40 (90)

Not Hispanic or Latino79/104 (76)25/104 (24)

3/9 (33)6/9 (67)

Race0.3 (1).58
1.1 (1).29

Black, Indigenous, Asian, or other73/94 (78)21/94 (22)

2/8 (25)6/8 (75)

White266/355 (74.9)89/355 (25.1)

5/45 (11)40/45 (89)

Gender1.8 (2).40
0.5 (2).79

Woman236/310 (76.1)74/310 (23.9)

4/40 (10)36/40 (90)

Man138/182 (75.8)44/182 (24.2)

3/19 (16)16/19 (84)

Nonbinary99/141 (70.2)42/141 (29.8)

2/20 (10)18/20 (90)

Sexual orientation0.2 (3).98
2.4 (3).49

Heterosexual168/230 (73)62/230 (27)

1/25 (4)24/25 (96)

Bisexual98/132 (74.2)34/132 (25.8)

3/21 (14)18/21 (86)

Pansexual57/77 (74)20/77 (26)

1/8 (13)7/8 (88)

Other sexual orientation120/160 (75)40/160 (25)

4/22 (18)18/22 (82)

aED: emergency department.

General ED Admissions

McNemar test was used to compare ED admissions data from the same clients at 2 time points, including intake and at 3 months after discharge. The findings of the McNemar test indicated ED admissions significantly decreased from intake to 3 months after discharge, such that 87% (77/88) of clients with a history of ED admissions reported no ED admissions in the 3 months after discharge from treatment (P<.001; Table 3).

Table 3. Change in EDa admissions from intake to 3 months after discharge across the whole sample (χ 21=52.2, P<.001).
Improved between intake or 3 months after discharge3-month postdischarge ED admissionTotal

Pre-ED admission


Count (n=223), n (%)214 (96)9 (4)223 (100)

Standard residual0.4–0.4N/Ab


Count (n=88), n (%)77 (87)11 (12)88 (100)

Standard residual–0.60.6N/A
Total (n=311), n (%)291 (93.6)20 (6)311 (100)

aED: emergency department.

bN/A: not applicable.

Mental Health–Related ED Admissions

Findings from the McNemar test indicate that mental health–related ED admissions significantly decreased from intake to 3 months after discharge such that 94% (65/69) of clients with a history of mental health–related ED admissions reported no mental health–related ED admissions in the 3 months after discharge from treatment (P<.001; Table 4).

Table 4. Change in mental health–related EDa admissions from intake to 3 months after discharge (χ 21=38.8, P<.001).
Improved between intake or 3 months after discharge3-month postdischarge MHb-related ED admissionTotal

Pre–MH-related ED admission


Count (n=236), n (%)226 (95.8)10 (4)236 (100)

Standard residual0.1–0.3N/Ac


Count (n=69), n (%)65 (95)4 (6)69 (100)

Standard residual–0.10.5N/A
Total (n=305), n (%)291 (95.4)14 (5)305 (100)

aED: emergency department.

bMH: mental health.

cN/A: not applicable.

Principal Findings

Youth and young adults reported a significant decrease in mental health ED admissions between intake and 3 months after discharge from Charlie Health IOP programming, with only 6% (4/69) of clients with a recent mental health ED admission at intake reporting an ED admission at 90-day follow-up. This sample includes gender and sexual minority youth missing from previous research [15] and represents a sample with co-occurring disorders and acute needs that come with high risk of readmission [23,25]. Recent research found that less than half of youth and young adults who visit the ED for mental health reasons receive follow-up care, with the authors issuing a call for improved engagement with outpatient mental health providers to increase follow-up rates [50]. This study documented positive outcomes among youth and young adults who did engage in IOP care following ED visits. This program evaluation is the first to our knowledge to examine readmission to ED following mental health IOP among youth specifically. In this investigation, youth and young adults were equally likely to have an ED admission at intake into the IOP program, and both age groups made similar improvements. Furthermore, there were no differences in the likelihood of reporting an ED admission by gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity, and the reduction in ED admissions at 3 months after discharge was similar across all demographic subgroups.


This study represents a formative evaluation study and has significant limitations to be addressed in future research. Most notably, it is not possible to include a matched control group in this program evaluation, as Charlie Health works to provide care to all youth and young adults with intensive needs as quickly as possible. We cannot conclusively determine that IOP care causes the drop in ED admissions without comparing an IOP sample to a matched sample that does not participate. This evaluation relies on self-report data and excludes youth and young adults who did not complete the 3-month postdischarge assessment, which may include other youth or young adults who required a readmission. Furthermore, this study is limited to youth and young adults who enrolled in care. As many clients with mental health concerns do not access follow-up care following discharge from an inpatient admission [51], these youth may have protective factors that enabled them to enroll in care and prevented readmission.

Comparison With Prior Work

The Charlie Health 3-month mental health ED readmission rate of 6% (4/69) is substantially lower than those reported in broader community samples, such as the 13.2% psychiatric pediatric readmission rate found in the meta-analysis by Edgcomb et al [15] or the 15.6% psychiatric readmission rate for young adults nationally [16]. It is also higher than the 30-day rate in broader studies of outpatient care, such as the 22.2% psychiatric readmission rate among young adults in outpatient treatment for being bipolar [27].

Further, 1 explanation for this relatively low readmission rate is that this sample is restricted to those who received an adequate dose of care, and studies that include participants who drop out are likely to have higher readmission rates. Another explanation is that a more intensive or higher dose of services meet acute needs [46] following discharge, and the level of care is appropriate for reducing readmissions for youth as it is for adults [41]. The telehealth format may also contribute. It may be that telehealth has lower barriers to engagement than in-person services, such as transportation [52,53], and so youth and young adults are able to participate even when they face escalating symptoms or functioning challenges that could otherwise lead to crises requiring inpatient care.

If the 6% (4/69) Charlie Health readmission rate reflected a reduction from the average 13.2% (10,076/83,361) youth readmission rate [15], this would represent a 56.1% reduction in psychiatric readmissions and associated cost savings. This is similar to the 58% cost ratio found for youth with physical health concerns participating in an IOP program, compared to youth in the control group, with total costs reduced by US $10,258 per child-year in 2011-2013 [54].


A quarter (177/696, 25.4%) of Charlie health clients in this sample began IOP services shortly following an ED admission, representing a step down in care meant to address continued acute needs. Evaluating effectiveness at reducing future ED admissions is necessary for Charlie Health to identify if there is a need to offer more or less intensive services. These results suggest that clients experience a significant reduction in ED admissions between intake and 3 months after IOP treatment. The similar outcomes between age groups indicate that the current tracks of programming are equally meeting the needs of both youth and young adults, as well as the needs of youth from a variety of different demographic backgrounds.

This promising preliminary finding demonstrates the need for a full return-on-investment analysis for intensive mental health services for youth and young adults. Potential cost-savings to health care payers of intensive mental health services include not only reduced hospital readmission but reduced health care expenses for family members [55], reduced general health care costs [56], and reduced risk of suicide attempts with the associated cost of care at the time of attempt [57] and increased cost of care during the following year [19]. The potential benefits to society of services that meet the acute mental health needs of youth and young adults are far greater, including improved quality of life [44] and earnings [58], as well as reduced absenteeism [59]. Providing access to the appropriate level of mental health care for youth and young adults in need is a crucial first step in reducing the overuse of EDs for mental health crises.

Data Availability

Owing to the quality improvement nature of this study, the data sets analyzed contain information that could compromise participants’ privacy and participants did not agree to their data being shared publicly, so supporting data are not available.

Authors' Contributions

KG, JB, and KRB developed the concept for the paper and cowrote the first draft. KG and KRB conducted analyses and MK verified findings and made suggestions for alternative statistical tests. All authors contributed to the critical review and editing of the paper.

Conflicts of Interest

CF is the cofounder and chief clinical officer of Charlie Health. EK is an employee of Charlie Health. KG and KRB were employees of Charlie Health at the time this paper was written. JB and MK are consultants for Charlie Health.

  1. U.S. surgeon general issues advisory on youth mental health crisis further exposed by COVID-19 pandemic. HHS Press Release. 2021. URL: https:/​/adasoutheast.​org/​u-s-surgeon-general-issues-advisory-on-youth-mental-health-crisis-further-exposed-by-covid-19-pandemic/​ [accessed 2023-10-24]
  2. Hoge MA, Vanderploeg J, Paris M, Lang JM, Olezeski C. Emergency department use by children and youth with mental health conditions: a health equity agenda. Community Ment Health J. 2022;58(7):1225-1239. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  3. Heyming TW, Fortier MA, Martin SR, Lara B, Bacon K, Kain ZN. Predictors for COVID-19-related new-onset maladaptive behaviours in children presenting to a paediatric emergency department. J Paediatr Child Health. 2021;57(10):1634-1639. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  4. Torio CM, Encinosa W, Berdahl T, McCormick MC, Simpson LA. Annual report on health care for children and youth in the United States: national estimates of cost, utilization and expenditures for children with mental health conditions. Acad Pediatr. 2015;15(1):19-35. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  5. Feng JY, Toomey SL, Zaslavsky AM, Nakamura MM, Schuster MA. Readmission after pediatric mental health admissions. Pediatrics. 2017;140(6):e20171571. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  6. Lo CB, Bridge JA, Shi J, Ludwig L, Stanley RM. Children's mental health emergency department visits: 2007-2016. Pediatrics. 2020;145(6):e20191536. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  7. Moore BJ, Stocks C, Owens PL. Trends in emergency department visits, 2006-2014. Healthc Cost Util Proj Stat Briefs. 2017:893-908. Statistica(December 2012) [FREE Full text]
  8. Kalb LG, Stapp EK, Ballard ED, Holingue C, Keefer A, Riley A. Trends in psychiatric emergency department visits among youth and young adults in the US. Pediatrics. 2019;143(4):e20182192. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  9. Radhakrishnan L, Leeb RT, Bitsko RH, Carey K, Gates A, Holland KM, et al. Pediatric emergency department visits associated with mental health conditions before and during the COVID-19 pandemic—United States, January 2019-January 2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;71(8):319-324. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  10. Nash KA, Zima BT, Rothenberg C, Hoffmann J, Moreno C, Rosenthal MS, et al. Prolonged emergency department length of stay for US pediatric mental health visits (2005-2015). Pediatrics. 2021;147(5):e2020030692. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  11. Ibeziako P, Kaufman K, Scheer KN, Sideridis G. Pediatric mental health presentations and boarding: first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hosp Pediatr. 2022;12(9):751-760. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  12. Bridge JA, Marcus SC, Olfson M. Outpatient care of young people after emergency treatment of deliberate self-harm. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2012;51(2):213-222.e1. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  13. Gerson R, Havens J, Marr M, Storfer-Isser A, Lee M, Marcos CR, et al. Utilization patterns at a specialized children's comprehensive psychiatric emergency program. Psychiatr Serv. 2017;68(11):1104-1111. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  14. Gonzalez K, Patel F, Cutchins LA, Kodish I, Uspal NG. Advocacy to address emergent pediatric mental health care. Clin Pediatr Emerg Med. 2020;21(2):100778. [CrossRef]
  15. Edgcomb JB, Sorter M, Lorberg B, Zima BT. Psychiatric readmission of children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychiatr Serv. 2020;71(3):269-279. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  16. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2019 Uniform Reporting System (URS) Output Tables. 2020. URL: [accessed 2023-10-24]
  17. Miller DAA, Ronis ST, Slaunwhite AK, Audas R, Richard J, Tilleczek K, et al. Longitudinal examination of youth readmission to mental health inpatient units. Child Adolesc Ment Health. 2020;25(4):238-248. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  18. Heslin KC, Weiss AJ. Hospital Readmissions Involving Psychiatric Disorders, 2012. Rockville, MD. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2015. URL: http:/​/www.​​reports/​statbriefs/​sb189-Hospital-Readmissions-Psychiatric-Disorders-2012.​pdf [accessed 2023-01-01]
  19. Institute HCC. 2018 Health Care Cost and Utilization Report. 2020. URL: [accessed 2023-10-24]
  20. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.. Databases, Tables, and Calculators by Subject. 2023. URL: [accessed 2023-10-31]
  21. Stensland M, Watson PR, Grazier KL. An examination of costs, charges, and payments for inpatient psychiatric treatment in community hospitals. Psychiatr Serv. 2012;63(7):666-671. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  22. Grudnikoff E, McNeilly T, Babiss F. Correlates of psychiatric inpatient readmissions of children and adolescents with mental disorders. Psychiatry Res. 2019;282:112596. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  23. Connell SK, To T, Arora K, Ramos J, Haviland MJ, Desai AD. Perspectives of parents and providers on reasons for mental health readmissions: a content analysis study. Adm Policy Ment Health. 2021;48(5):830-838. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  24. Deolmi M, Turco EC, Pellegrini P, Marchesi C, Pisani F. Psychiatric emergency in children and adolescents: a retrospective study in Parma Local Health Unit. Behav Neurol. 2021;2021:8848387. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  25. Šprah L, Dernovšek MZ, Wahlbeck K, Haaramo P. Psychiatric readmissions and their association with physical comorbidity: a systematic literature review. BMC Psychiatry. 2017;17(1):2. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  26. Yampolskaya S, Mowery D, Dollard N. Predictors for readmission into children's inpatient mental health treatment. Community Ment Health J. 2013;49(6):781-786. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  27. Madden A, Vajda J, Llamocca EN, Campo JV, Gorham TJ, Lin S, et al. Factors associated with psychiatric readmission of children and adolescents in the U.S.: a systematic review of the literature. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2020;65:33-42. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  28. Marcus SC, Chuang CC, Ng-Mak DS, Olfson M. Outpatient follow-up care and risk of hospital readmission in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Psychiatr Serv. 2017;68(12):1239-1246. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  29. Xi W, Banerjee S, Penfold RB, Simon GE, Alexopoulos GS, Pathak J. Healthcare utilization among patients with psychiatric hospitalization admitted through the emergency department (ED): a claims-based study. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2020;67:92-99. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  30. Gentil L, Grenier G, Fleury MJ. Factors related to 30-day readmission following hospitalization for any medical reason among patients with mental disorders: facteurs liés à la réhospitalisation à 30 jours suivant une hospitalisation pour une raison médicale chez des patients souffrant de troubles mentaux. Can J Psychiatry. 2021;66(1):43-55. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  31. Cheng C, Chan CWT, Gula CA, Parker MD. Effects of outpatient aftercare on psychiatric rehospitalization among children and emerging adults in Alberta, Canada. Psychiatr Serv. 2017;68(7):696-703. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  32. Hermer L, Nephew T, Southwell K. Follow-up psychiatric care and risk of readmission in patients with serious mental illness in state funded or operated facilities. Psychiatr Q. 2022;93(2):499-511. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  33. Vijayaraghavan M, Messer K, Xu Z, Sarkin A, Gilmer TP. Psychiatric readmissions in a community-based sample of patients with mental disorders. Psychiatr Serv. 2015;66(5):551-554. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  34. Phillips MS, Steelesmith DL, Campo JV, Pradhan T, Fontanella CA. Factors associated with multiple psychiatric readmissions for youth with mood disorders. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2020;59(5):619-631. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  35. Pfeiffer PN, Ganoczy D, Zivin K, McCarthy JF, Valenstein M, Blow FC. Outpatient follow-up after psychiatric hospitalization for depression and later readmission and treatment adequacy. Psychiatr Serv. 2012;63(12):1239-1242. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  36. Trask EV, Fawley-King K, Garland AF, Aarons GA. Do aftercare mental health services reduce risk of psychiatric rehospitalization for children? Psychol Serv. 2016;13(2):127-132. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  37. Pinals DA, Fuller DA. Beyond Beds: The Vital Role of a Full Continuum of Psychiatric Care. 2017. URL: [accessed 2023-10-24]
  38. Sperling J, Boger K, Potter M. The impact of intensive treatment for pediatric anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder on daily functioning. Clin Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2020;25(1):133-140. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  39. Cook MN, Crisostomo PS, Simpson TS, Williams JD, Wamboldt MZ. Effectiveness of an intensive outpatient program for disruptive children: initial findings. Community Ment Health J. 2014;50(2):164-171. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  40. Öst LG, Ollendick TH. Brief, intensive and concentrated cognitive behavioral treatments for anxiety disorders in children: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Behav Res Ther. 2017;97:134-145. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  41. Costa M, Plant RW, Feyerharm R, Ringer L, Florence AC, Davidson L. Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) of behavioral health (BH) problems: engagement factors predicting subsequent service utilization. Psychiatr Q. 2020;91(2):533-545. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  42. Abbass A, Campbell S, Magee K, Tarzwell R. Intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy to reduce rates of emergency department return visits for patients with medically unexplained symptoms: preliminary evidence from a pre-post intervention study. CJEM. 2009;11(6):529-534. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  43. Smits ML, Feenstra DJ, Bales DL, Blankers M, Dekker JJM, Lucas Z, et al. Day hospital versus intensive outpatient mentalization-based treatment: 3-year follow-up of patients treated for borderline personality disorder in a multicentre randomized clinical trial. Psychol Med. 2022;52(3):485-495. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  44. Town JM, Abbass A, Stride C, Nunes A, Bernier D, Berrigan P. Efficacy and cost-effectiveness of intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy for treatment resistant depression: 18-Month follow-up of the halifax depression trial. J Affect Disord. 2020;273:194-202. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  45. Robinson L, Delgadillo J, Kellett S. The dose-response effect in routinely delivered psychological therapies: a systematic review. Psychother Res. 2020;30(1):79-96. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  46. Nordmo M, Monsen JT, Høglend PA, Solbakken OA. Investigating the dose-response effect in open-ended psychotherapy. Psychother Res. 2021;31(7):859-869. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  47. Hansen NB, Lambert MJ, Forman EM. The psychotherapy dose-response effect and its implications for treatment delivery services. Clin Psychol Sci Pract. 2002;9(3):329-343. [CrossRef]
  48. Evans-Chase M, Kornmann R, Peralta B, Gliske K, Berry K, Solomon P, et al. Understanding treatment needs of youth in a remote intensive outpatient program through solicited journals: quality improvement analysis. JMIR Form Res. 2023;7:e45509. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  49. McNemar Q. Note on the sampling error of the difference between correlated proportions or percentages. Psychometrika. 1947;12(2):153-157. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  50. Hugunin J, Davis M, Larkin C, Baek J, Skehan B, Lapane KL. Established outpatient care and follow-up after acute psychiatric service use among youths and young adults. Psychiatr Serv. 2023;74(1):2-9. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  51. Kurdyak P, Vigod SN, Newman A, Giannakeas V, Mulsant BH, Stukel T. Impact of physician follow-up care on psychiatric readmission rates in a population-based sample of patients with schizophrenia. Psychiatr Serv. 2018;69(1):61-68. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  52. Borders TF. Major Depression, Treatment Receipt, and Treatment Sources Among Non-Metropolitan and Metropolitan Adults. 2020. URL: [accessed 2023-10-24]
  53. Coombs NC, Meriwether WE, Caringi J, Newcomer SR. Barriers to healthcare access among U.S. adults with mental health challenges: a population-based study. SSM Popul Health. 2021;15:100847. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  54. Mosquera RA, Avritscher EBC, Samuels CL, Harris TS, Pedroza C, Evans P, et al. Effect of an enhanced medical home on serious illness and cost of care among high-risk children with chronic illness: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA—J Am Med Assoc. 2014;312(24):2640-2648. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  55. Madsen JW, Tomfohr-Madsen LM, Doss BD. The impact of couple therapy on service utilization among military veterans: the moderating roles of pretreatment service utilization and premature termination. Fam Process. 2017;56(3):620-635. [CrossRef] [Medline]
  56. Altmann U, Zimmermann A, Kirchmann HA, Kramer D, Fembacher A, Bruckmayer E, et al. Outpatient psychotherapy reduces health-care costs: a study of 22,294 insurants over 5 years. Front Psychiatry. 2016;7:98. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  57. Shepard DS, Gurewich D, Lwin AK, Reed GA, Silverman MM. Suicide and suicidal attempts in the United States: costs and policy implications. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2016;46(3):352-362. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  58. Chisholm D, Sweeny K, Sheehan P, Rasmussen B, Smit F, Cuijpers P, et al. Scaling-up treatment of depression and anxiety: a global return on investment analysis. Lancet Psychiatry. 2016;3(5):415-424. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]
  59. Maljanen T, Knekt P, Lindfors O, Virtala E, Tillman P, Härkänen T, et al. Helsinki Psychotherapy Study Group. The cost-effectiveness of short-term and long-term psychotherapy in the treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders during a 5-year follow-up. J Affect Disord. 2016;190:254-263. [FREE Full text] [CrossRef] [Medline]

ED: emergency department
IOP: intensive outpatient

Edited by A Mavragani; submitted 04.04.23; peer-reviewed by KH Goh; comments to author 25.08.23; revised version received 12.09.23; accepted 03.10.23; published 09.11.23.


©Kate Gliske, Jaime Ballard, Katie R Berry, Michael Killian, Elizabeth Kroll, Caroline Fenkel. Originally published in JMIR Formative Research (, 09.11.2023.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR Formative Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.