Ideas for improvement: respecting patient autonomy
These issues underscore the need for a more thorough review of collateral information to ensure that patient autonomy is not unjustly violated. How do we implement these necessary ideas without creating further undue burden during the admission process? Certainly, I am not suggesting that we evaluate the collateral informant to the degree that we evaluate the patient. However, I have outlined some suggestions for ensuring we act in our patients’ best interest when processing collateral information during an admission:
- Until proven otherwise, the patient’s story is true. If our patient maintains descriptions of his behavior that exist in stark opposition to the collateral information we obtain, we should only not believe the patient if his presentation suggests he may be acutely impaired or a poor historian (such as profound disorganization, overt psychosis, or failing to have capacity).
- Treat symptoms, not diagnoses. In this case, Mr. M was described by his foster mother to be psychotic in addition to having ASD, and an inexperienced psychiatrist may have initiated a titration to a higher antipsychotic dose. However, in the absence of any observable signs of aggression or psychosis, there was simply no indication for further titration of his antipsychotic.
- Document, document, document. When collateral information is supplied to us, it is crucial that we maintain a detailed account of this information. If we have a reason to believe that a patient poses an immediate danger to himself or others, we should carefully document our reasoning so that changes in behavior (if any) can be observed on a day-to-day basis.