Psychiatric Malpractice

A Guttlaw ReportTM

Psychiatry is one of the most difficult medical specialties. Very often, psychiatric problems are really reflections of physical ailments and only a very careful differential diagnosis can lead to proper treatment. Modern psychiatry has come a very long way and much can be done with today's antidepressants and other medications. These very medical advances have also created many risks for patients.

As with any kind of medical malpractice, the key questions always are:

  1. Did the doctor meet the standard of care? In other words, did the doctor make a proper diagnosis and then do what he or she should have done?
  2. If the doctor failed to do what should have been done (or did something that should not have been done) was harm proximately caused by the doctor's departure from the standard of care?
  3. If the answer to both of these questions is positive, then the doctor may be liable for malpractice.

* Suicide - Many psychiatric malpractice cases arise from the failure of a treating psychiatrist to take necessary and appropriate steps to prevent suicide. If , based upon the patient's presentation, the doctor should have had a reasonable concern about suicide because of the patient's depression or suicidal ideation, and failed to take steps to protect the patient from herself, then the psychiatrist may be liable.

* Drug-Drug Interactions - Modern psychiatry often involves prescribing numerous drugs in order to address the patient's many symptoms. These may include antidepressants and pain management medications. In addition, the patient may be taking numerous other medications prescribed by other care providers. When the psychiatrist adds new medications, it is the doctor's responsibility to ensure that the drugs being prescribed will not have a dangerous reaction caused by the interaction of the new drug with one which the patient is already taking. If the doctor fails to take this into account and the patient is injured or dies as a result of a drug-drug interaction, then the psychiatrist will be held responsible.

* Alzheimer's Patients - Both the nursing home and the treating psychiatrist have an obligation to ensure that an Alzheimer's patient is kept in an appropriately protective environment. This includes making sure that they do not have access to dangerous medications and that they cannot wander away from the closed environment.

* Psychiatric Illness and Differential Diagnosis - Differential diagnosis is a term doctors use for the process of determining what condition a patient has, because symptoms can often reflect many different problems. For example, someone who claims lethargy (lack of energy) may have a psychiatric condition known as depression. They may also be suffering from a cardiovascular or circulatory problem which prevents adequate oxygen from getting to the brain. Or, they may be suffering from sleep apnea and unable to get adequate rest at night. The list can go on forever and it is the responsibility of a treating psychiatrist and any other doctor to use their best informed medical judgment to rule out those conditions which the patient does not have and to properly and safely treat those conditions which the patient does have. The failure to do so may be malpractice.

Evaluating whether malpractice has occurred requires a trained team of dedicated medical and legal professionals. At Rubin Guttman & Associates, L.P.A., we have been obtaining justice for the victims of motor vehicle accidents, products liability, and medical negligence for over 32 years. There's never any charge for an initial consultation, so please feel free to make an appointment for a case evaluation.

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