St. Luke's screens for suicide risk at doctors checkups

Posted at 2:30 PM, Aug 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-05 16:31:50-04

Blood pressure, height and weight, vital signs: all things most of us come to expect in a routine doctor's check-up. But St. Luke’s patients can now expect assessment on more than just their physical health.

Administrators tell us approximately 40 percent of their patients currently have diagnosis for depression.

“One of the most common things that we hear from people is that they felt 'like there was no one that they could talk to,' and they, 'didn’t want to burden someone,'" said Megan Stright, St. Luke's Administrator of Behavioral Health.

St. Luke's will now be asking a series of questions during their regular checkups in hopes of identifying patients who may be at risk for suicide.

“And rather than wait for our patients to come to us, and, um, share with us those feelings in those very difficult time, to really start proactively asking them, ‘how are you doing?’” Stright said.

If the provider suspects their patient needs additional help, they might refer them to a social worker or therapist located in the same building.

And for Idaho physicians, mental health is a top concern. According to the most recent report, Idaho has the fifth highest rate of suicide within the U.S., at a rate that is 57 percent higher than the national average.”

One patient says because of the care she received by way of the new process, she improved her depression and anxiety by over 70 percent. “I had a panic attack to where I thought I was going to have a heart attack," said Ilka Armstrong, St. Luke's patient. "They had just hired a care manager who came in immediately, taught me tools on how to calm down.”

They hope that by increasing conversation about these feelings, it will lessen the stigma around suicide.

“They’ve treated me as a human, and not piece by piece," Armstrong said.

The one catch? For those with insurance that doesn’t cover specialty care, the recommended specialist could be pricey. “That’s still considered specialty care once you get there, even if they’re still located in primary care," Stright said. "I wish that wasn’t the case, but, it is today.” 

St. Luke'ss patients over the age of 18 will be screened at least once a year, while adolescent patients will be screened during every visit.