When you or your loved one are suffering from trauma and mental health issues, you may turn to a mental health professional for support. However, far too often patients find themselves victims of malpractice from the very people they expected to help them. The complexity of the human brain and the close relationships developed between psychiatrist and their patients often make these types of medical malpractice cases different from others. Any type of error, neglect, or mistreatment in this area of the medical field can have profound consequences on patients and their families. While psychiatric malpractice can take many forms, the following are a few common types of cases:
Misdiagnosis/Delayed Diagnosis/Failure to Diagnose
Due to the complexity of mental health, diagnosing a patient and providing the best treatment options can be a challenge. There's no definitive medical tests for specific mental illnesses, and time and resources can limit a doctor's ability to dig deeper into a patient's condition. When it comes to the brain, a misdiagnosis can have especially disastrous consequences. Wrongly prescribed medications may make problems worse, and some drugs warn against increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in vulnerable patients. Since mental health can impact a person's ability to function, delays in diagnosis or a prolonged misdiagnosis can also negatively impact the employment, relationships, and physical well-being of patients.
Failure to Supervise a Suicidal Patient/Negligence
Post-suicide lawsuits account for the largest number of malpractice suits against psychiatrists. Doctors are expected to follow the medical profession's standard of care and properly assess the risk of suicide in their patients, then develop a treatment and safety plan accordingly. With vulnerable people under their care, it is especially important that they're closely supervising their struggling patients. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention lists a number of suicide warning signs and increased risk factors that doctors, patients, and their families should note.
Sexual Relations/Lack of Boundaries
Due to the intimate nature and close relationships developed during psychiatric treatment, it is easy for professional boundaries to become blurred. Due to poor judgement and emotional overload, mental health professionals sometimes unload personal issues on their patients, causing unnecessary distress. In certain cases, heightened emotions have also lead to cases of sexual relations or abuse between doctors and patients. The American Medical Association states that "sexual contact concurrent with the patient-physician relationship constitutes sexual misconduct" since they can exploit the patient's vulnerability, impair judgement, and detract from the overall health goals. Just like with any other medical cases, doctors must remain professional and not take advantage of vulnerable patients for personal physical or emotional gain. These types of situations are especially contemptable because psychiatrists are specially trained in the damage such exploitation can cause.
Lack of Informed Consent
Before administering any kind of psychiatric treatment, doctors are legally required to obtain the patient's "informed consent." This includes providing patients essential information, such as a description of the treatment, its purpose and desired outcome, risks and complications, viable alternative treatment options, and expectation of success. Patients can then follow up with questions and concerns, and take adequate time to weigh the pros and cons.
These are just a few types of psychiatric medical malpractice cases that can occur. Unfortunately, many victims of psychiatric medical practice don't come forward out of fear and emotional distress, or they're not taken seriously due to their unstable mental health history. Our team at Lipkin & Higgins has experience with a wide variety of medical malpractice cases, and we want to help. If you think you or a loved one may be a victim, contact us today for a free consultation to get the compensation you deserve!