Suicide rates in the U.S. have been increasing over the past several decades, but the healthcare system still often lags in engaging people effectively during time of crisis. In an effort to bridge this care gap – and ultimately reduce deaths – Zero Suicide Institute and Jaspr Health have partnered to roll out technology providing evidence-based interventions in emergency departments.

Jaspr Health’s digital platform, developed with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health, aims to scale suicide risk assessment and clinical support for both patients and providers. Jaspr and Zero Suicide Institute see the partnership as a first step toward the larger goal of streamlining suicide care across all healthcare systems in the U.S.

“If you came into the emergency department for a stroke or a heart attack, you’d get what you should get in the emergency department,” said Jaspr co-founder and CEO Dr. Kelly Koerner. “But if you come in for suicide you can’t count on that. This technology allows a leveling of the playing field where everyone who comes in gets access to a self-help guided assessment, lethal means counseling and crisis stability planning, plus exposure to people with lived experience.”

Emergency departments are often overwhelming places for people to be sent to when experiencing high suicide risk, Koerner added.

“As you come into the emergency room on the worst day of your life, it’s chaotic. You’re asked to change into a different gown, all your possessions are taken away and, especially during COVID times, you’re by yourself, your family members can’t be with you,” she explained. “Because of staff shortages, you may wait eight to 12 hours before anything really advances in your care. That just wouldn’t happen if you had a heart attack or a stroke.”

Jaspr plans to shorten care delays by conducting immediate suicide risk assessments via iPad and sharing “lived experience” from individuals who have survived suicide. The idea is to provide comfort while simultaneously giving doctors the information they need prior to seeing the patient.

“Emergency departments are so busy. It’s a very hard place to be patient,” Koerner said. “That’s what Jaspr is meant to do: Give a compassionate, kind, thorough assessment so that people get the care they need. And then the provider can come in and do the things providers do.”

The companies are also seeking to extend care beyond the emergency department. Koerner noted that people are at highest risk for suicide right around the time of discharge. That’s why Jaspr aspires to serve as the bridge between an emergency room experience and the care that follows.

“As they go through the intervention, there are skills that people learn to be able to cope with their distress, and there are people with lived experience who offer messages of hope and wisdom,” Koerner said. “So the crisis stability plan that you create is bundled up with all the resources and taken home on a mobile app, so people have that continuity of care.”

The Jaspr/Zero Suicide Institute partnership is currently rolling out across 18 different emergency departments and will soon scale up across large healthcare systems. Koerner hopes that, at some point in the not-distant future, a streamlined suicide care protocol can be implemented across all hospitals in the U.S.

“COVID-19 has increased our urgency,” Koerner said. “If you imagine people not having heat or water amid a big crisis, that’s kind of how I feel about this. It’s so basic to have suicide crisis care, and most people can’t get it.”

Koerner also hopes to provide at least some small degree of assistance to emergency care providers. “There has been unbelievable burnout among emergency department folks,” she continued. “They want to do good care and at least this streamlines the process – so while they’re doing the other million things they have to do, patients are starting their journey toward healing.”