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    Floridas suicide ruling puts physicians at risk

    Case details

    The day before the patient died, she called her physician’s office because she had not been feeling well for a few months and had a variety of symptoms, some of which were consistent with depression. This was something her primary care physician, Joseph Chirillo Jr., had been treating her for, using medication that she advised his office she had stopped taking. Chirillo’s office advised her to come to the office to pick up a sample of a different anti-depressant and made an appointment for her with a gastroenterologist to investigate other symptoms she was experiencing.

    The patient’s husband sued Chirillo and his practice after the suicide, alleging that the doctor was negligent for failing to recognize her depression, not talking to her directly and failure to conduct an evaluation before providing the new anti-depressant, according to media reports.

    In August 2016, the Florida court ruled that the case against Chirillo could go to jury trial to determine his negligence in the case.

    Analysis

    Chirillo is not a psychiatrist or a psychologist. He is a medical doctor specializing in family medicine. Forty percent of primary care physicians provide mental health care to patients, according to a 2013 article in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. Without their treatment the unmet mental healthcare needs would be even greater.

    In this Florida case, the patient stopped taking her anti-depressants and did not inform her doctor for a number of months. How can a physician be held liable for a patient who disregards his instructions and subsequently takes her own life? 

    Next: Larger ramifications

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