Study Finds Suicidal Youths Can Be Successfully Identified at Regular Medical Check-ups

May 1, 2006

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In such a preventable tragedy, early detection of the various risk factors and treatment could help save many lives.  Now, researchers at Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio have demonstrated that young people with suicidal thoughts can be successfully identified in a primary care setting, allowing for early intervention and counseling.  The findings will be presented at the Pediatric Academic Society's annual meeting on May 1 in San Francisco.
William Gardner, PhD, researcher with the Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice in the Columbus Children's Research Institute at Columbus Children's Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics and Psychology with The Ohio State University College of Medicine, found in a study of more than 1,000 youths that pediatricians could successfully identify "suicidal" adolescents using their "Health eTouch" risk-assessment instrument,  a web-based, self-reporting tablet computer, that asked participants questions about subjects such as substance abuse, injury risk, depression and suicidality.  Once completed, the tablet produced a summary report for the pediatrician to review as part of the regular check-up.
"So far, there have been few efforts to screen youths for suicidal thoughts in primary care settings," said Dr. Gardner.  "We know that pediatricians see patients with substance abuse and depression problems every day, but the symptoms aren't always obvious during the short check-up.  This study shows there is a way for primary care clinicians to identify these young people and provide them with access to the counseling or treatment they may not have otherwise known were needed."
The study, designed for adolescents aged 11-20, was conducted at eight primary care practices in central Ohio serving a high-risk population.  Eligible patients and their parents were approached during the registration process and asked for their consent to participate in the study.  Those that consented completed the six to eight minute self-report risk assessment using tablet computers with encrypted wireless connections to the internet while waiting for their routine visit.  Average age of study participants was 14.4-years-old.  Of those surveyed, 14 % reported having thoughts of suicide.
As part of the next phase of his study, Dr. Gardner plans to further analyze how doctors can best respond to suicidal youths and expedite the delivery of treatment services.
Columbus Childrens Hospital is a 114-year-old pediatric healthcare network which houses the Department of Pediatrics of The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Columbus Childrens Research Institute (CCRI) at Columbus Children's Hospital ranks among the top 10 in National Institutes of Health research awards to freestanding childrens hospitals in the United States.  CCRI has nearly 300,000 square feet of dedicated research space and is organized into 11 research Centers of Emphasis encompassing gene therapy; molecular and human genetics; vaccines and immunity; childhood cancer; cell and vascular biology; developmental pharmacology and toxicology; injury research and policy; microbial pathogenesis; cardiovascular medicine; innovation in pediatric practice and biobehavioral health.  More information is available by calling (614) 722-KIDS or through

About Nationwide Children's Hospital

Named to the Top 10 Honor Roll on U.S. News & World Report ‘s 2018-19 list of “Best Children’s Hospitals,” Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of America’s largest not-for-profit freestanding pediatric health care systems providing wellness, preventive, diagnostic, treatment and rehabilitative care for infants, children and adolescents, as well as adult patients with congenital disease. Nationwide Children’s has a staff of more than 13,000 providing state-of-the-art pediatric care during more than 1.4 million patient visits annually. As home to the Department of Pediatrics of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Nationwide Children’s physicians train the next generation of pediatricians and pediatric specialists. The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of the Top 10 National Institutes of Health-funded freestanding pediatric research facilities. More information is available at