Standard of Care

A closer look at the responsibility of mental health professionals

Some organizations exist in which the stakes are high and losses can occasionally include actual loss of life: air traffic control systems, nuclear aircraft carriers, nuclear power plants, aircraft operations, and psychiatric hospitals. These organizations have to act mindfully; they must have their head in the game.

In evaluating potential suicide cases the Law Offices of Skip Simpson examines medical records to determine if the care providers are abiding by the standard of care. Does the medical staff have their heads in the game? Are they acting mindfully? Is suicide prevention on the minds of the clinicians and hospital employees? Are the clinicians acting competently?

Definition for standard of care

Standard of care is traditionally defined as "that degree of skill and learning that is ordinarily possessed and exercised by members of that profession in good standing."

If there are two ways to care for a patient, the safest way should be selected. To do otherwise means an unnecessary danger to the patient. Any unnecessary danger violates the standard of care.

There is no such thing as a standard of care that allows a psychiatric hospital or mental health clinicians to needlessly endanger their patients.

The standard of care requires the clinician to conduct a proper suicide risk assessment of each potentially suicidal patient. To do a proper assessment, you must first consider all of the relevant factors and then reach a reasonable assessment, based upon these factors, of the patient's risk for suicide.

Unfortunately, patients exhibiting self-destructive behavior sometimes receive negligent treatment. The doctor may conduct an improper suicide risk assessment, which can result in a suicide. If you lost a loved one due to psychiatric malpractice, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer. Call 214-618-8222 today to see how we can help.

Factors in a suicide risk assessment

What are some of the factors which must be considered? Some are demographic: the patient's age, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, employment and living circumstances all impact upon the patient's risk for suicide. The patient's history must also be considered. Is there a family history of suicide? Has the patient made prior suicide attempts? Has he recently been discharged from a psychiatric hospital? Finally, the clinician must consider the patient's presentation at the time of the assessment. What is the patient's diagnosis?

Major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, high anxiety and schizophrenia have the highest suicide completion rates. Does the patient have a co-morbid anxiety disorder or a substance dependency or abuse disorder? (Both of which would markedly increase the risk for suicide.) Does the patient suffer from a chronic physical illness? Most importantly, the clinician has a duty to specifically ask the patient whether he has been having suicidal thoughts, whether he has formulated a plan to die by suicide, and whether he intends to die by suicide.

The standard of care requires that all suicide risk assessments be documented in the record. If a clinician fails to perform, or improperly performs, an assessment, or if the clinician unreasonably underestimates the patient's risk, she may well be liable if the patient dies by suicide, or makes a suicide attempt. Failure to take certain actions is unacceptable.

Contact the Law Offices of Skip Simpson

For a free and confidential consultation, contact the Law Offices of Skip Simpson, serving Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Florida, Illinois, and other states throughout the nation. Choose a law firm that puts our experience and resources to work for you. We realize your case is about more than just money. It's about justice, about holding irresponsible people accountable for their actions.

Break the cycle. Help prevent future suicides. Contact a compassionate attorney who cares about people and demands justice. Contact the Law Offices of Skip Simpson.