Ethical Issues in Emergency Psychiatry

Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2015 Nov;33(4):863-74. doi: 10.1016/j.emc.2015.07.012. Epub 2015 Sep 7.


The care of patients with a psychiatric emergency is fraught with ethical challenges. Applying ethical reasoning to clinical challenges may help to improve care. Emergency providers should assess decision-making capacity using 4 criteria: communication, understanding, appreciation, and reasoning. Maintaining patient confidentiality is a strong imperative for emergency physicians and should be protected unless compelling additional concerns take precedence. The goal of involuntary treatment should be to protect patients from harm that they would not be exposed to were they capable of autonomous decision making, not dangerous, or not impaired by their psychiatric illness using the least restrictive means possible.

Keywords: Confidentiality; Decision-making capacity; Emergency psychiatry; Ethics; Involuntary treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making / ethics*
  • Emergencies*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Psychiatry / ethics*