A father and son sit on their couch on the computer. The son is in Charlie Health's virtual IOP, which new research shows reduces mental health-related ED admissions.

New Research: Charlie Health’s IOP Reduces Mental Health-Related ED Admissions

4 min.

If you or someone you know has visited the ED for mental health reasons, learn how virtual intensive outpatient programming (IOP) can help to effectively manage symptoms and avoid hospital readmission.

By: Alex Bachert, MPH

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

October 10, 2023


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Table of Contents

Data shows that more youth than ever before are turning to hospitals to help treat mental health crises. And, as the pediatric mental health crisis continues to grow, so does its impact on emergency departments (ED) across the country. Emergency care costs continue to soar, and hospitals often lack adequate support to meet escalating youth mental health needs. 

Many of these mental health-related trips to the ED are repeat visits from young people who don’t have access to resources outside of the hospital. ED readmissions are common for youth with no other way to manage their mental health issues, especially those struggling with suicidal ideation, psychotic disorders, and comorbid conditions.

So, how can we keep teens and young adults out of the ED and in touch with more equitable and sustainable solutions to treat their mental health concerns? 

One idea is to increase access to intensive outpatient programming (IOP), a type of behavioral healthcare designed for people who need more support than traditional once-weekly therapy but don’t need 24/7 residential or inpatient treatment. To better understand how IOP can keep youth with mental health issues out of the ED, a team of researchers studied data on more than 700 teen and young adult clients enrolled in Charlie Health’s virtual IOP.

“This program evaluation is the first to our knowledge to examine re-admission to ED following mental health IOP among youth specifically,” wrote the researchers. What they found was promising: “This study documents low mental health-related ED readmission rates when youth and young adults engage with intensive outpatient care following emergency room visits,” according to the research—a finding that suggests virtual IOP meets the acute mental health needs of young people discharging from the ED.

Below, we review the research findings, as well as how you or a loved one can access virtual IOP. 

A look at the research

Conducted by the Research and Clinical Outcomes team at Charlie Health, the program evaluation assessed the following questions:

  1. Will youth and young adult ED admission rates decrease following participation in a virtual IOP?
  2. Are there differences in readmission rates between youth and young adults by gender or sexual identity, race, or ethnicity?

The researchers studied data on over 700 youth enrolled in Charlie Health’s virtual IOP. All participants completed at least two weeks of treatment and six IOP sessions, and were discharged from the program between September 2022 and November 2022. There were slightly more adolescents (58%) than young adults (42%), and the groups were equally likely to have had an ED admission at the start of the virtual IOP. 

The study data came from electronic surveys that youth were asked to complete both at intake and three months following their last IOP session. The survey asked if they were admitted to an ED within the previous 30 days, and if so, what was the reason. Reasons included suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, physical altercation, self-harm, substance abuse, eating disorders, or other general ED admission reasons. 

A female teenager lays in her room on her computer. She is in Charlie Health's virtual IOP, which new research has shown reduces mental health-related ED admissions.

What did they find? 

The researchers found that mental health-related trips to the ED significantly decreased from intake to post-discharge for adolescents and young adults. In fact, 94% of individuals who had previously visited the ED for mental health issues reported no additional mental health-related ED admissions in the three months following treatment with Charlie Health. 

Notably, researchers concluded that there were no differences in ED admissions at intake or at three months post-discharge by age, gender, sexuality, race, or ethnicity. Previous research suggests overutilizing the ED for pediatric mental health reasons can contribute to existing health disparities, so access to virtual IOP may be especially beneficial for historically marginalized groups, such as BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities.

What virtual IOP means for future youth mental healthcare

A recent study found that less than half of teens and young adults who visit the ED for mental health reasons receive follow-up care, suggesting that outpatient mental health providers should be more involved in creating sustainable care solutions. 

“Providing access to the appropriate level of mental healthcare for youth and young adults in need is a crucial first step in reducing the overutilization of EDs for mental health crises,” wrote the researchers.

Leveraging IOP to address acute mental health needs can better prepare youth to manage symptoms, improve functioning, and enhance quality of life moving forward. Plus, appropriate interventions can lead to potential cost savings for family members and healthcare payers. 

How to access virtual IOP with Charlie Health

Founded in 2020, Charlie Health is the largest virtual mental health clinic for youth who are struggling with complex mental health disorders. Our personalized Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) combines support groups, individual therapy, and family therapy to best meet each person’s needs.

Whether you’re exploring treatment options for the first time or looking for additional support, Charlie Health offers individualized and evidence-based mental healthcare in a safe, supportive space without disrupting your day-to-day routine. 

Fill out this short form to get started with Charlie Health today.

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