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3 tips new psychiatrists use to discuss confidentiality limits

| Jan 19, 2021 | Professional License Issues |

Doctor-patient confidentiality is a cornerstone of any psychiatrist’s practice. After all, confidentiality allows you to treat your patients effectively without exposing, endangering or embarrassing them. Still, there are some situations that may require you to reveal confidential information.

To avoid the licensing complications that may follow a board complaint, you should discuss confidentiality limitations with every patient you treat. Because doing so may be awkward, especially if you are early in your career, the following three tips may help you have the necessary conversation.

1. Address the matter early

You do not want your patients to disclose information before they fully understand confidentiality limitations. Consequently, you should write a script to use during your initial consultation. Waiting any longer may complicate your ability to obtain informed consent for psychiatric treatment.

2. Use precise language

After you discuss confidentiality and its limitations with your patients, they should have no question about where confidentiality ends. They should also know exactly when you must disclose information.

Therefore, you should tell all new patients about your duty to reveal details pursuant to a court order or after receiving information that indicates the potential for patients to harm themselves or others.

3. Consider each patient’s ability to understand

While sticking to a precise script usually makes sense, you must have a plan for informing patients who may have difficulty understanding or processing information. If you work with patients who have learning disabilities or other intellectual challenges, you may need to use basic words, pictures or other techniques to explain confidentiality limitations.

Ultimately, to ensure some of your patients understand confidentiality, you may need to explain limitations and your reporting obligations more than once.

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