Decision-making capacity for treatment in psychiatric and medical in-patients: cross-sectional, comparative study

Gareth Owen, George Szmukler, Genevra Richardson, Anthony David, Vanessa Raymont, Fabian Freyenhagen, Wayne Martin, Matthew Hotopf

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62 Citations (Scopus)


Is the nature of decision-making capacity (DMC) for treatment significantly different in medical and psychiatric patients?

To compare the abilities relevant to DMC for treatment in medical and psychiatric patients who are able to communicate a treatment choice.

A secondary analysis of two cross sectional studies of consecutive admissions: 125 to a psychiatric hospital and 164 to a medical hospital. The ‘MacArthur Competence Assessment Tool – Treatment’ and a clinical interview were used to assess decision-making abilities (understanding, appreciating and reasoning) and judgements of DMC. We limited analysis to patients able to express a choice about treatment and stratified the analysis by low and high understanding ability.

Most people scoring low on understanding were judged to lack DMC and there was no difference by hospital (p= 0.14). In both hospitals there were patients who were able to understand yet lacked DMC. Such patients were more common in the psychiatric hospital (39% v 13%, p <0.001). Appreciation was a better ‘test’ of DMC in the psychiatric hospital (where psychotic and severe affective disorders predominated) than the medical hospital (p < 0.001). Reasoning was a better ‘test’ of DMC in the medical hospital (where cognitive impairment was common) than the psychiatric hospital (p = 0.02).

Among those with good understanding, the appreciation ability had more salience to DMC for treatment in a psychiatric setting and the reasoning ability had more salience in a medical setting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-467
Number of pages7
JournalBritish Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2013


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