By Consent Order dated May 8, 2013, the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine indefinitely suspended the medical license of a Massachusetts Board-certified psychiatrist by “engaging in conduct that places into question the [psychiatrist’s] competence to practice medicine,” “by committing misconduct in the practice of medicine,” and by failing to report alleged child abuse. The psychiatrist had worked in an outpatient psychiatric clinic at Children’s Hospital Boston from January 2011 to April 2012, where he supervised child psychiatry fellows. The psychiatrist had held a license to practice medicine in Massachusetts since 1997.
What Went Wrong?
A 16-year-old patient who was suffering from “several psychiatric symptoms and/or conditions” was being treated at the hospital as an outpatient by a psychiatric fellow beginning in August 2011; the patient was categorized as a psychopharmacological patient. Beginning in October 2011, the psychiatrist became involved in the patient’s care and attended two treatment sessions along with the psychiatry fellow. The psychiatry fellow was having some difficulty in engaging the patient but the patient seemed to engage with the psychiatrist more easily.
During one of the girl’s outpatient sessions, the psychiatrist became concerned about the girl’s “spiritual wellbeing,” believing that the girl’s problems “were not only the result of her psychiatric symptoms and/or conditions, but were also spiritual in nature.” He even told members of his own church that he was treating a patient for whom he had concerns regarding her spiritual wellbeing.
The girl was hospitalized as an inpatient from February 8, 2012 to February 23, 2012. The psychiatrist told the patient during her hospitalization that he believed that there was “a significant spiritual component” to her symptoms and conditions. He gave her a cross in exchange for a different religious symbol that she was wearing, which she later returned to him. On February 15, 2012, the psychiatrist decided he could no longer be part of the girl’s treatment team.
On February 17, 2012, the psychiatrist offered to the girl to become her “spiritual mentor” and obtained her father’s consent to act as the girl’s spiritual mentor. He brought the girl to his church and introduced her to other church members.
In March 2012, the girl was evicted from her home, had no place to stay, and stayed overnight in the psychiatrist’s home. She told the psychiatrist that her mother had pushed her down a flight of stairs and tried to asphyxiate her, which the psychiatrist failed to report to the Department of Children and Families as required by Massachusetts law (he also failed to report to any state agency that the girl had been evicted from her home).
The Board found that the psychiatrist had imparted his own religious system of belief to the girl and had failed to separate his own religious belief for diagnostic concepts and therapeutic practice. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Guidelines Regarding Possible Conflict Between Psychiatrist’s Religious Commitments, “psychiatrists should not impose their own religious systems of belief on their patients nor should they substitute such beliefs or ritual for accepted diagnostic concepts or therapeutic practice.”
Injuries and harms caused by psychiatric malpractice can be just as devastating as physical injuries due to medical malpractice committed by physical medicine practitioners. In many circumstances, psychiatric patients may be more vulnerable or susceptible to harm when medical negligence occurs.
If you or a loved one were harmed as a result of possible medical malpractice committed by a psychiatrist, you should promptly seek the advice of a local medical malpractice attorney who may agree to investigate your possible psychiatrist malpractice claim for you and represent you in a psychiatric malpractice case, if appropriate.
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