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.
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.