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A general psychiatric evaluation has as its central component an interview with the patient. The interview-based data are integrated with information that may be obtained through other components of the evaluation, such as a review of medical records, a physical examination, diagnostic tests, and history from collateral sources. A general evaluation usually is time intensive. The amount of time necessary generally depends on the complexity of the problem and the patient's ability and willingness to work cooperatively with the psychiatrist. Language competence needs to be assessed early in the evaluation so that the need for an interpreter can be determined. Several meetings with the patient, and in many cases appropriate family or relational network members, may be necessary. More focused evaluations of lesser scope may be appropriate when the psychiatrist is called on to address a specific, limited diagnostic or therapeutic issue.

The aims of a general psychiatric evaluation are 1) to establish whether a mental disorder or other condition requiring the attention of a psychiatrist is present; 2) to collect data sufficient to support differential diagnosis and a comprehensive clinical formulation; 3) to collaborate with the patient to develop an initial treatment plan that will foster treatment adherence, with particular consideration of any immediate interventions that may be needed to address the safety of the patient and others—or, if the evaluation is a reassessment of a patient in long-term treatment, to revise the plan of treatment in accordance with new perspectives gained from the evaluation; and 4) to identify longer-term issues (e.g., premorbid personality) that need to be considered in follow-up care.

In the course of any evaluation, it may be necessary to obtain history from other individuals (e.g., family or others with whom the patient resides; individuals referring the patient for assessment, including other clinicians). Although the default position is to maintain confidentiality unless the patient gives consent to a specific intervention or communication, the psychiatrist is justified in attenuating confidentiality to the extent needed to address the safety of the patient and others (10, 11). In addition, the psychiatrist can elicit and listen to information provided by friends or family without disclosing information about the patient to the informant.

More detailed recommendations for performing a general psychiatric evaluation are provided in Section III.

References

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