If you’ve decided to seek treatment from a psychiatrist, chances are you’re going through a hard time in your life. So if that psychiatrist lets you down, it can be especially devastating. And if you have a vulnerable friend or family member whom you suspect is not getting appropriate treatment from their psychiatrist, it can be both frustrating and frightening.
Unfortunately, not every psychiatrist practicing today maintains a high standard of care. Psychiatry is one of the lowest-paid specialty areas among physicians, and there is a growing psychiatrist shortage in this country. As a result, many psychiatrists may be juggling huge workloads as they attempt to keep up with demand and make their practices profitable.
No doubt, being a psychiatrist can be a challenging job because sometimes there are no clear-cut solutions for a patient’s complex problems. Patients can’t sue just because they don’t like their results, or if their situation doesn’t improve as much as they would have liked. That’s why it’s important to understand a psychiatrist’s duties and obligations to you or your loved one before treatment begins.
In general, the plaintiff in a psychiatric malpractice claim must show that his or her psychiatrist breached the duty of reasonable care or, in other words, was negligent. And, the plaintiff must show that he or she was injured – either physically or mentally – by this negligence. According to one company that helps psychiatrists manage their legal risk, more than one-third of the claims they saw from 2006 to 2015 involved incorrect treatment. Nearly 20 percent were for medication issues, and 15 percent involved suicides or suicide attempts. About 6 percent were for misdiagnosis.
According to an article published by the National Institutes of Health, psychiatrists increase their risk of being sued by failing to properly assess a suicidal patient and for not responding to friends or relatives concerned about a patient’s suicide risk.
Under the law, psychiatrists are required in certain cases to warn someone if a dangerous patient has identified a potential victim. When they fail to do so, it is often the basis for a lawsuit as well.
Failure to adequately monitor a patient’s reaction to a powerful psychiatric drug is also a commonly seen area of psychiatric malpractice. Lithium, for example, is often prescribed to people diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But patients who take lithium can develop serious side effects and must be monitored for lithium toxicity, which can cause kidney damage and other serious problems. Certain psychotropic drugs can cause tardive dyskinesias, which is involuntary movements of the lips and eyes. If the drug isn’t discontinued when the symptoms begin, tardive dyskinesias can become permanent.
Some of the most disturbing psychiatric malpractice lawsuits are those filed after a psychiatrist has sexual contact with a patient. While taking advantage of a patient in this way is clearly prohibited by the American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics, one study estimated that as many as 10 percent of psychiatrists had engaged in sexual relations with a patient.
Even with all these potential problems, statistics show that psychiatrists are among the medical specialists least likely to be sued. Perhaps that’s because the people psychiatrists treat can sometimes be at the most fragile points in their lives. They may not realize they are being wronged or they may feel that others might not believe them if they speak out.
Sometimes it can be hard to find the strength to stand up for yourself. Don’t let embarrassment stop you from seeking help for yourself or a loved one who has not received the care they deserve. Please contact us today and a member of the Sommers Schwartz Medical Malpractice group will help assess your situation.