Medicolegal Issues

Liability in patient suicide

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Based on relevant case law, the following actions can decrease the risk of patient suicide—and a resultant malpractice claim:

  • Conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the patient and his or her suicide risk. Ask about:
  • Consider hospitalizing at-risk patients. If you decide against hospitalization, provide a comprehensive safety plan. In the gun owner’s case, such a plan would include arranging with the family to remove firearms. Implement additional anti-suicide precautions, such as more-intensive outpatient therapy or involving family members in treatment.
  • Document suicide risk assessment and the reasons for your treatment decisions. Juries may interpret lack of documented information in the patient’s favor.
  • Design a treatment plan for hospitalized patients to reduce suicide risk. Consider the patient’s reaction to constant surveillance. For example, checking a paranoid patient every 5 minutes may be more therapeutic than a constant watch while providing adequate safety. Thoroughly document your reasons behind the plan.

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