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Doctor talking with teen girl

Find out how to limit medical liability when providing mental health care

September 19, 2022

Editor's note:  For more coverage of the 2022 AAP National Conference & Exhibition, visit

James P. Scibilia, M.D., FAAP, spends about half his time as a primary care pediatrician caring for patients who have anxiety, depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He also is chair of the AAP Committee on Medical Liability and Risk Management.

So, he knows a thing or two about the liability risks pediatricians face when providing mental health care.

He also knows pediatricians increasingly are being called on to provide this care due to the burgeoning number of youths with mental health concerns stemming from the pandemic and the shortage of pediatric psychiatrists.

“I wanted to bring some of that experience and expertise into a discussion with the Fellows in the Academy around this issue of what are the risks that we're taking in taking on the responsibilities that might in other circumstances be taken care of by a pediatric psychiatrist,” Dr. Scibilia said. “We're equipped to do that, we are trained to take care of those problems. We just have to do it in a way that is appropriate to the situation and to our experience and to our ability.”

Dr. Scibilia will discuss how to minimize risks when providing mental health services appropriately in the primary care setting during the session “Pediatrician as Psychiatrist? Avoiding Legal Pitfalls” (S3511) from 3:30-4:30 p.m. PDT Sunday, Oct. 9 in rooms 154/158 of the convention center. 

He will begin by reviewing issues related to the shortage of psychiatrists and the increasing burden of mental illness.

“The average pediatrician and specialist pretty much every day is dealing with kids who have psychiatric problems, some of them small, some of them major,” he said. “The difficulty with that for us is that a lot of us don't have easy referral sources or easy accessibility to mental health services, where we have other physicians that we can contact to discuss problems we're having.”

He then will discuss how to care for those patients while limiting liability risks. He will review the importance of making an accurate diagnosis and things to watch for with medications, particularly those used to treat anxiety, depression and ADHD.  

In the last part of the talk, he will address suicide.

“I think the guidelines are pretty clear that if you do your suicide assessment and you come to point A and point A is high risk, those patients can't leave your office without being set up to be assessed somewhere,” he said.

Dr. Scibilia noted that the Academy has myriad resources on mental health care and suicide prevention, which he will share with attendees.

“I think what I want people to get out of it is an understanding that they can take care of people who have mental health problems in a competent manner and in a manner that puts them at very low liability risk,” he said. “But they have to appreciate the specifics around that to make sure that they're doing it the right way.”

For more information on the National Conference, visit View the conference schedule at

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