Like all doctors, psychiatrists—medical practitioners who specialize in mental illnesses—are held to certain standards of diagnosis, treatment, and care. If a psychiatrist violates his or her duty to patients, that psychiatrist may be charged with medical malpractice.
Standards of medical skill help protect both psychiatrists and patients, but when those standards are violated, psychiatric malpractice may have occurred. This blog discusses what psychiatric malpractice is and how to protect against it.
What Is Psychiatric Malpractice?
For a situation to be legally considered malpractice, a psychiatrist must fail to exercise skill that could be reasonably expected from other doctors in similar situations.
For a psychiatric treatment situation to constitute malpractice, it must have these four elements:
1. A doctor-patient relationship must exist. The psychiatrist in question must have had reasonable knowledge of and experience with the patient; a patient cannot charge a psychiatrist with malpractice if that patient has never been treated by that psychiatrist.
2. There must be a breach in the standard of care. If a psychiatrist fails to act reasonably and in a way that others in his or her field could be expected to behave in similar circumstances, that psychiatrist has failed to meet the standard of care.
3. Harm to the patient occurs. As in any other field, sometimes in psychiatry mistakes happen and misunderstandings occur. But if the psychiatrist’s failure or negligence harms the patient (physically, financially, or emotionally), the negligence may qualify as malpractice.
4. There is causation proved between the injury and the psychiatrist’s failure. The patient’s injury must be proved to have been caused or augmented by the psychiatrist.
There are a variety of ways that psychiatric malpractice occurs. A few examples include:
- Failing to conduct potential-suicide assessments and take measures against suicide
- Failing to inform others if the psychiatric patient is a danger to him- or herself and others
- Prescribing or mixing the wrong medication
Learn more about the types of psychiatric malpractice here.
Of course, some patients may feel that they have been treated unethically or unprofessionally, even if their particular case doesn’t qualify for a psychiatric malpractice lawsuit. In this case, patients can file a complaint against the psychiatrist with his or her employer or with a local human rights officer.
Protect Yourself and Others against Psychiatric Malpractice
Unfortunately, psychiatric malpractice occurs more frequently than we may realize. If a psychiatrist treats you and helps you with a mental illness, there are a few things you can do to help protect yourself against accidental or, in very rare cases, purposeful malpractice.
Keep in mind that these tips are also applicable if you have a loved one who sees a psychiatrist.
1. Ask questions about proposed treatments and medications. Your goal is to understand the reasoning behind your psychiatrist’s decisions. If you feel uncertain about the course of the treatment or medication, seek a second opinion from another psychiatrist. You should be able to trust your psychiatrist, but you should also be able to understand his or her decisions.
2. Keep careful records about your visits to the psychiatrist, the medication you take (including dosages, refills or changes, when you take it, and how it affects you), and the therapy you receive.
3. Report any romantic or sexual advances by a psychiatrist to others immediately.
4. If you feel that you are being treated unethically, communicate openly with your psychiatrist in the presence of others. Discuss the problem with both your psychiatrist and other professionals.
5. If you are currently in an inpatient facility, write letters to trusted family members and friends and report your day-to-day experiences. If you have a loved one who is currently in an inpatient facility, make frequent, unscheduled visits.
6. Laws about psychiatric records vary from state to state, but if possible, review your clinical record occasionally and make sure that it is accurate.
As you take proper steps to protect yourself during psychiatric treatment and care, reach out to others and create a network of supportive, trusted friends and professionals who can help you if needed. Isolation will make it easier for someone to take advantage of you, so create many relationships that you can trust while you are being treated.
Get Help Now
If you suspect that you or someone you love may be the victim of psychiatric malpractice, contact your personal injury lawyer immediately. Your attorney can help you determine whether your case constitutes malpractice and, if so, can help you receive the justice and compensation you deserve.
You deserve to feel safe as you consult with your psychiatrist. Get help today.