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Can you sue your psychiatrist for malpractice?

Psychiatry is a highly nuanced field of medicine. When a patient suffers while pursuing psychiatric treatment, it's not always clear whether the doctor has committed medical malpractice-for which there are legal repercussions-or poor doctoring-for which there are none.

In today's post, we outline five core areas that have historically yielded successful psychiatrist malpractice claims.

1. Treatment

A psychiatrist may be sued for malpractice if they fail to:

  • Follow the appropriate medication procedures-such as obtaining informed consent or conducting the necessary testing and monitoring of a patient while on a medication;
  • Conduct a comprehensive neurological evaluation of a patient who presents concerning symptoms, such as an altered mental state or a lowered level of consciousness;
  • Develop a concrete communication plan with any other clinician who is collaboratively treating their patient or
  • Follow the proper clinician-patient termination process.

2. Patient record

Psychiatric malpractice suits can also result from unsatisfactory record keeping, including:

  • Failing to document all medications, dosages, medication changes-and clinician rationale for all of these;
  • Failing to document any changes to a patient's level of care or supervision-and the clinician rationale for these;
  • Altering a patient's record or
  • Falsifying a patient's record.

3. Suicidal patients

For suicidal patients, psychiatrists can be held accountable if they:

  • Fail to conduct a suicide risk assessment;
  • Conduct such an assessment initially, but fail to take the necessary follow-up steps to continually monitor and evaluate any recurrence of suicidal thoughts or actions or
  • Fail to assess a suicidal patient's environment for access to items they can use to harm themselves.

4. Third parties

Psychiatrists can also face legal action for improper engagement with others, including:

  • Failing to respond at all to a request for patient information from concerned family members or through subpoena;
  • Immediately providing such information without regard to private health information standards or
  • Failing to warn a third party if a dangerous patient identifies them as a potential victim of harm.

5. Unethical behavior

In addition, certain unprofessional conduct can easily lead to a lawsuit, such as a psychiatrist:

  • Engaging in a sexual relationship with a patient,
  • Bartering for their medical services or
  • Creating false memories in a patient.

The above list is not exhaustive and is only meant to provide a sampling psychiatric malpractice cases. Consulting with an experienced attorney is the best way to determine whether your case warrants a medical malpractice suit.

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