(Received 22 September 1979; accepted 13 November 1978)
Published Online: July
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The malpractice status of the use of electroshock therapy (electroencephalotherapy) has been reviewed. In about 40 years, there have been relatively few reported cases dealing with EST (EET) and professional liability. Few cases have been won, and those generally for modest amounts. However, future successful claims are expected to reflect current inflation. Certainly the limited volume of litigation would seem to raise a question as to the justification for the extent of the surcharges charged for psychiatric malpractice insurance for the administration of EST. Potential liability for EST continues to be a significant threat to the psychiatric practitioner, although drug matters, suicide, and conformance with legal standards seem a more significant area for current litigation. Those who use EST (EET) can minimize liability exposure by (1) obtaining an informed consent from the patient, (2) describing the method of treatment and possible complications to the family or patient and so noting, (3) ensuring legal authority to treat the patient who is incompetent to give consent or for whom special procedures are required, (4) treating in accordance with accepted procedures, (5) avoiding outpatient EST, if possible, (6) paying close attention to patient complaints, (7) keeping good records, and (8) not promising perfection.
Professor of psychiatry and professor of community medicine (legal medicine), Rutgers Medical School, College of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Piscataway, N.J.
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