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From the Editor

Malpractice: Why do we worry so much?

Vol. 3, No. 9 / September 2004

Psychiatrists seem to worry more than other physicians about malpractice claims, even though other specialists face greater numbers of claims and more-astronomical awards. One source of our anxiety is psychiatry’s difficulty in defining “standard of care.”

Twenty years ago, patients with identical symptoms could receive very different treatments, depending on the treating psychiatrists’ philosophies. Our standard of care is better-defined today, but we still may offer a suicidally depressed patient a broader range of treatments than other specialists offer patients with life-threatening illnesses.

We also worry because of the greater “creativity” personal injury lawyers can use in making claims against us, compared with other specialties. For example, most claims against a diagnostic radiologist are limited to failure to diagnose something. Psychiatrists can be subject to claims for not only failing to diagnose or treat mental disorders but also for failing to restrain patients who harm themselves or to protect people we have never met from harm our patients may cause.

To address these concerns, we obtained permission to abstract malpractice cases of interest to psychiatrists from the newsletter Medical Malpractice Verdicts, Settlements & Experts, published by attorney Lewis L. Laska of Nashville, TN. “Malpractice Verdicts”—featuring brief summaries of selected court decisions—debuts this month.

This new column is designed to help CURRENTPSYCHIATRY readers keep up with case law affecting our specialty and the torts of which we might be accused. Then, at least, we might be able to protect ourselves better and worry a little less.

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