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The Citizen's Duty

In general, a person is required to report criminal activity and to appear and testify as a witness if requested by the defendant or the state. This creates a conflict of interest with a patient's expectation that a physician will preserve the confidences of the physician-patient relationship. This conflict is most acute for psychiatrists: their physician-patient relationships are critically dependent on trust, and their patients are much more likely to discuss matters such as criminal activity with them. There are explicit protections for the psychiatrist-patient relationship, except as necessary to protect the lives of third persons (see Chapter 8). The law also ignores, without necessarily explicitly protecting, the nonpsychiatric physician-patient relationship. This means that a physician can be forced to divulge information if the police believe that it is necessary to prevent or investigate a crime. This does not happen often, but it does happen.


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