Electroconvulsive therapy in Oman: a national audit of demographics and standards
Middle East Current Psychiatry volume 30, Article number: 38 (2023)
We aim to address the dearth of knowledge regarding general electroconvulsive therapy practice in Oman, by examining and investigating the electroconvulsive therapy practices at all hospitals providing electroconvulsive therapy across the country, and to compare our local practice against the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines on the appropriate use of electroconvulsive therapy to inform the development of guidelines locally. Sultan Qaboos University Hospital and Al Masarra Hospital were included in a nationwide audit of all hospitals in Oman that administer electroconvulsive therapy. The demographics, diagnostic and electroconvulsive therapy indications, treatment characteristics, and side-effect profiles of all patients who had electroconvulsive therapy between January 2019 and December 2020 were collected from the hospital’s electronic data. A descriptive analysis of the results was performed.
The total number of patients was 197 (92 males and 105 females). The most common diagnosis was schizophrenia 32.5%, followed by major depressive disorder 31.5%. The most common immediate side effect was headache 10.2%, followed by dizziness 7.1%, and amnesia 4.1%. Only 57.4% of patients who received electroconvulsive therapy met the NICE guidelines for appropriate electroconvulsive therapy use. Clinical status was assessed after each electroconvulsive therapy session for 66% of patients, and cognitive function monitoring was achieved for only 7.6% of patients.
The current audit has indicated that the assessment of the clinical status and cognitive functions of electroconvulsive therapy patients is inadequate. Because there is a significant rate of cognitive dysfunction following electroconvulsive therapy delivery, cognitive assessment before, during, and after therapy should be more rigorously implemented and documented.
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a noninvasive treatment modality that uses an electrical current to induce a brief seizure in the patient. ECT must generate a controlled and monitored seizure lasting between 30 and 90 s to be considered therapeutic, and it is commonly used for patients with acute or treatment-resistant psychiatric disorders . Despite ECT’s well-established effectiveness and safety, it is considered to be one of the most underutilized treatment modalities, largely due to stigma and the negative portrayal of ECT by the media . Nevertheless, research has shown that most patients who have undergone treatment with ECT had favorable attitudes and were satisfied with the treatment .
Although there are no definite contraindications to ECT, it can cause side effects and may be seriously harmful to some individuals. As a result, all patients must be evaluated before ECT for the presence of cerebral or cardiovascular diseases, as these conditions can be linked to an increased risk of complications from general anesthesia and seizure induction . Most patients experience cognitive side effects during and after ECT, such as postictal disorientation, retrograde amnesia, and anterograde amnesia . Objective examinations, on the other hand, show that the cognitive impairments generated by ECT are transient . Headaches, myalgias, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and musculoskeletal weakness are some of the other side effects .
ECT-related outcomes depend largely on the quality of care and adherence to evidence-based guidelines . As a result, establishing precise quality standards that can be applied to monitor patient safety and program compliance is an essential step toward achieving best practices for ECT safety and efficacy. Treatment standards and guidelines have been developed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists  and the American Psychiatric Association , and in several countries around the world, practice guidelines have been developed . However, in Oman, there are no policies and guidelines issued and utilized by the mental health services where ECT is performed. Moreover, there is a wide variation in the practice in regards to clinical monitoring and cognitive assessment of ECT recipients, and it is worth noting that there is no specific accreditation system for ECT in Oman, such as the ECT Accreditation Service (ECTAS) in the United Kingdom . That being the case, in this national audit, we aim to examine the clinical characteristics of patients receiving ECT and compare our local practice to NICE guidelines on the appropriate use of ECT. The NICE guidelines provide explicit standards to audit against and are therefore an excellent tool for service improvement. Consequently, this will inform the development of guidelines for the improvement and standardization of the procedure nationally. In Oman, there are only two tertiary hospitals that provide ECT services: Sultan Qaboos University Hospital and Al Masarra Hospital, both of which are located in Muscat, the capital city, and serve approximately 5 million people.
The audit aims the following:
To determine the characteristics of patients who receive ECT
To compare the practice of ECT in Oman with the recommendations of the NICE guidelines on the appropriate use of ECT.
We conducted a retrospective descriptive study to examine the electronic records of all patients aged 18 years and above who received electroconvulsive therapy at all psychiatric institutions providing ECT in Oman. In Oman, there are only two hospitals that offer ECT. These are Al Masarra Hospital and Sultan Qaboos University Hospital; both of these hospitals belong to the governmental sector. All patients in Oman can receive tertiary care either at the Sultan Qaboos University Hospital or Al Masarra Hospital. Sultan Qaboos University Hospital is a teaching hospital affiliated with the College of Medicine and Health Sciences, and ECT services are provided for only admitted patients, and they are offered through the Department of Behavioral Medicine, which has 28 psychiatric beds. On the other hand, Al Masarra Hospital is a specialized psychiatric care hospital, and it provides ECT for both inpatient and outpatient departments; the inpatient unit includes 245 beds.
The study was conducted between January 2019 and December 2020. The electronic records were retrieved from the hospital information system and were then assessed for documentation of the patient’s demographics, diagnosis, ECT indications, ECT treatment characteristics, and the immediate as well as long-term side-effect profile (6-month follow-up). The main outcome measure was to determine whether ECT was delivered and monitored per the criteria outlined by the NICE guidelines on the use of electroconvulsive therapy (Table 1) published on April 26, 2003 . According to the NICE guidelines, a number of criteria must be met, and each criterion must meet a predetermined level of standards. Comparing the number of cases in our practice that meet the NICE guidelines’ specified standards allowed us to measure the extent of our compliance with the NICE guidelines. Moreover, in this audit, the results were then analyzed using a descriptive approach.
Compliance achieved in relation to NICE guidelines on the use of electroconvulsive therapy
As shown in Table 1, the NICE guidelines were followed, and 100% compliance was achieved in all standards except 5 standards. Only 57.4% of patients who received ECT met NICE guidelines for the appropriate ECT use. Clinical status was assessed after each ECT session for 66% of patients. Cognitive function monitoring was achieved for only 7.6% of patients. A total of 1.5% of patients had a depressive illness and received maintenance ECT, and 32.5% of patients with a schizophrenia diagnosis received ECT.
Patient demographic and treatment characteristics
As shown in Table 2, a total of 197 patients underwent ECT during the study period. The majority of the patients 54.8% were 18–44 years old, followed by 22.8% from the elderly age group (> or equal to 60 years old) and 22.3% from the age group 45–59 years. The majority of patients 87.8% did not undergo psychological therapy before ECT.
Clinical diagnosis and indication for ECT
As Table 3 presents, the most common diagnosis for patients receiving ECT was schizophrenia 32.5%, followed by major depressive disorder 31.5%. The most common indication for ECT use was a severe depressive illness that is resistant to antidepressants 42.6%, followed by a severe psychotic illness that is resistant to antipsychotics 37.1%, a prolonged or severe manic episode 8.1%, catatonia 6.6%, and suicidality 5.6%.
Side effects following ECT
As Table 4 shows, immediate side effects were recorded for 73 patients (37%). The most common immediate side effect was headache 10.2%, followed by dizziness 7.1%, and amnesia 4.1%. One-hundred seventy-two patients out of 197 received outpatient department follow-up after the ECT course, and no long-term side effects were recorded.
Cognitive and clinical status (mood/psychotic symptoms) assessment
As Table 5 shows, 59 patients (29.9%) were assessed for their cognitive functions before the course of treatment, but only 12 patients (6.1%) were assessed on an ongoing basis. However, after the course, only 16 patients (8.1%) were assessed upon discharge. The cognitive functions were assessed using the mini-mental state examination (MMSE) and a clinical interview conducted by the parent team caring for the patients. Meanwhile, mood and psychotic symptoms were assessed regularly after each ECT session for only 130 patients (66%). For those patients, the mood and/or psychotic symptoms were assessed by clinical interviews conducted by the parent team caring for the patient. The number of patients who experienced an improvement in mood/psychotic symptoms was 176 patients (89.3%).
This is the first comprehensive audit of ECT practice in Oman. Therefore, this audit can provide a framework for a quality assurance strategy that can be used to monitor ECT procedure safety and effectiveness. In addition, it can lead to future ECT delivery improvements across the country. The audit revealed that our current ECT practice achieves 100% compliance with only half of the standards recommended by the NICE guidelines. We fell short of 5 out of 11 standards, i.e., standard numbers 1, 6, 7, 10, and 11.
Standard 1 requires that individuals receiving ECT have one of the following indications: severe depressive illness, catatonia, or a prolonged or severe manic episode. At this standard, we have achieved a compliance rate of only 57.4%. Of the remaining individuals, 37.1% underwent ECT for a severe psychotic illness that is resistant to antipsychotics, and 5.6% of individuals underwent ECT because they were suicidal. Moreover, standard 11 requires that no individual with a schizophrenia diagnosis receives ECT treatment. Despite that, the most common diagnosis for patients receiving ECT in our sample was schizophrenia 32.5%. NICE guidelines do not recommend the use of ECT for patients with schizophrenia. Because there were no randomized clinical trials that compared the use of ECT to atypical antipsychotics, research suggests that ECT is not more effective than antipsychotic medication and may even be less effective, although there is some indication that ECT combined with pharmacotherapy is more beneficial than pharmacotherapy alone. However, the evidence is not conclusive . Few studies have looked into the link between ECT and suicide rates. Some studies have found that ECT can reduce suicidal ideation  and attempts . On the other hand, some other studies have found that ECT is linked to an increased risk of suicide when compared to non-ECT. [14, 15] Because of these discrepancies, the effect of ECT on suicide risk is inconclusive.
Standards 4 and 5 are concerned with obtaining the individual or the career’s informed consent before each ECT course. We have successfully met this criterion in full. However, in a recent audit, conducted in England, more than a third of ECT (37%) is still given without consent . In both SQUH and Al Masarra Hospital, the treating teams, which include consultants, specialists, and psychiatry residents, meet all together with the patient and their caregivers. They discuss in suitable and simple language the benefits, general risks, and specific risks related to each patient. The patient and/or his caregiver is then referred to the general anesthesiologist to discuss the risks related to general anesthesia. The patient and/or his carer is then requested to sign a consent form, either electronically or on paper, which is subsequently added to their medical file. The consent document also includes the signatures of the treating psychiatrist, general anesthesiologist, and the designated staff nurse.
Standard 6 recommends assessing an individual’s clinical status after each ECT session. The audit revealed that only 66% of the study sample received clinical assessment after each ECT session. It is important to monitor therapeutic responses during ECT by performing a clinical assessment before and after each session, usually within 24 h of the procedure. Treatment should be terminated after a response has been achieved or sooner if there is evidence of adverse effects. Formal clinical rating measurements are available and may be used in recording therapeutic responses and changes in symptoms.
Standard 7 specifies that the individual’s cognitive functions are monitored on an ongoing basis and, at a minimum, at the end of each treatment. Adherence to this standard is particularly important as memory impairment is a well-known side effect of ECT treatment. Both immediately following the delivery of ECT and after a course of treatment, cognitive impairment can occur . Indeed, in our sample following ECT, 4.1% of the sample experienced amnesia, and 3% experienced confusion. However, only 7.6% of those who received ECT were assessed for cognitive impairment. A second audit was carried out in 2019 to evaluate the advancements made since the audits in 2011, 2013, and 2015 with regard to improving the administration of ECT in England. The audit found that there had been marginal decreases in the use of standardized depression scales, down to 30%, and standardized measures of cognitive dysfunction, down to 24%, compared to a previous audit . In our study, patients’ cognitive functions were assessed using the mini-mental state examination (MMSE) and a clinical interview conducted by the parent team caring for the patients. Meanwhile, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, the mini-mental state examination, and the Addenbrooke Cognitive Examination were the three most frequently used validated tests in England to evaluate the cognitive functions of patients receiving ECT .
Standard 10 recommends that ECT should not be used as maintenance therapy for depressive illness. However, the results showed that ECT has been used as a maintenance therapy for 4.1% of our study sample, of which 1.5% had received ECT maintenance therapy for a depressive illness. The use of maintenance ECT in depressive illness is discouraged by NICE guidelines because the long-term benefits and risks of ECT use have not been established .
The results revealed that the majority of patients 87.8% did not undergo psychotherapy before ECT, probably because they were critically ill and hence unable to participate. An audit that examined thousands of cases where ECT was used in England revealed that only one trust from about 56 National Health Service Trusts could report how many patients received psychological therapy prior to ECT, as required by (NICE) guidelines . Before ECT, psychologists and psychiatrists should aim to ensure that patients are offered evidence-based psychological treatments in their collaborative therapeutic approach. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, behavioral activation, and psychodynamic psychotherapy are among the NICE recommendations for depression .
To inform healthcare administrators about the importance of formulating and implementing local guidelines in psychiatric hospitals that adhere to NICE guidelines for the appropriate use of ECT as follows:
To formulate a list of validated scales to clinically monitor the mood and psychotic symptoms on an ongoing basis (e.g., Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS) & the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS)).
To formulate a list of validated scales to assess for cognitive dysfunction and memory loss on an ongoing basis and at the end of the ECT course (e.g., mini-mental state examination (MMSE) & the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA))
To formulate a list of validated scales to assess immediate- and long-term side effects (e.g., mini-mental state examination (MMSE) & the Six-Item Cognitive Impairment Test (6CIT))
To conduct a specialized hands-on training workshop for faculty and resident physicians on delivering, monitoring, and documenting ECT as per the newly developed local guidelines to all hospitals providing ECT in Oman (Sultan Qaboos University Hospital and Al Masarra Hospital)
To provide all patients receiving ECT and their carers information leaflets about immediate and long-term side effects with follow-up assessment dates mentioned
To reaudit in 3 years after implementing the above steps to monitor improvement in clinical practice
The present study has shown that the assessment of the clinical status and cognitive functions of patients receiving ECT is poorly performed. Identifying these areas of greatest clinical need is a crucial first step in developing guidelines locally. Improving ECT services may be possible through better education for medical students during psychiatry clerkship. In doing so, it is hoped that resident physicians will start working with a better appreciation of the importance of clinical and cognitive assessment. Subsequently, attitudes toward monitoring cognitive functions and mood and/or psychotic symptoms for patients receiving ECT should improve. Moreover, resident physicians and specialist psychiatrists should be encouraged to use precise and scaled assessment methods to monitor clinical status, cognitive functioning, and side effects.
Availability of data and materials
All data generated or analyzed during the present study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.
Hamilton Depression Rating Scale
Montgomery–Åsberg Depression Rating Scale
Mini-mental state examination
Montreal Cognitive Assessment
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
Sultan Qaboos University Hospital
Six-Item Cognitive Impairment Test
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We sincerely thank Dr. Said Al Kaabi who is a neuropsychiatrist and sleep medicine specialist at Al-Masarra Hospital for facilitating data collection at Al-Masarra Hospital.
No funding was received for this study.
Ethics approval and consent to participate.
The medical research ethics committee at Sultan Qaboos University does not require ethical approval for audit projects.
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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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Al-Mahrouqi, T., Al-Balushi, N., Al-Hamrashdi, S. et al. Electroconvulsive therapy in Oman: a national audit of demographics and standards. Middle East Curr Psychiatry 30, 38 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s43045-023-00309-1