Mental Health Malpractice Prevention

As a mental health provider, if you work with suicidal patients, you’re more at risk of being sued for malpractice than virtually any other type of health care professional.

In fact, early survey data has shown that when patients take their own lives, 25% of families contact an attorney about bringing forth a malpractice lawsuit.

Some mental health providers respond to the threat of malpractice by practicing “defensively.” They might adopt a “better safe than sorry” approach and hospitalize patients at risk of suicide. They also might prescribe psychotropic medications, even though the literature supporting this approach to treating suicidality is limited or mixed at best.

Ways to Prevent Malpractice

There are other ways to mitigate the risk of malpractice when working with suicidal patients. Below are tips to prevent suicide malpractice suits.

1) Assess and Document for Suicide Risk

When working with patients who are suicidal, it is vital that you routinely and thoroughly assess for the risk of suicide and document it within the medical records.

2) Focus on Suicidality

If you have a patient who is suicidal, you need to focus on that in the treatment plan, develop a stabilization plan, and initiate ongoing discussions about safety regarding lethal-means.

3) Keep Assessing, Treating, and Documenting

As you are providing mental health care, during the ongoing course of care, you need to keep focusing on the topic of suicide. You cannot drop the ball – the issue of suicide needs to be continually assessed, treated, and documented.

4) Seek Consultation

In every case of potential suicide, you need to seek consultation from another mental health professional and meticulously document the input.

5) Incorporate Best Practices Into All of Your Clinical Care

The best way to limit your malpractice exposure is to meet or exceed the “standard of care.” By doing so, you will only provide the most competent care. In the event of a fatal outcome, you will also limit your suicide malpractice risk.

At CAMS-care, we have developed an evidence-based approach for the assessment and treatment of suicidal risk. This therapeutic framework is based on more than 30 years of clinical research. It gives you a “template” to follow that helps prevent suicide and ensures that you complete all of the necessary steps in the assessment, treatment, and documentation processes.