Capacity Evaluation Requests in the Medical Setting: A Retrospective Analysis of Underlying Psychosocial and Ethical Factors

Stephen Pesanti, Brandon Hamm, Bryn Esplin, Matt Karafa, Xavier F. Jimenez*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background Psychosocial and ethical variables influence physicians in requesting decision-making capacity (DMC) evaluations. Previous authors have classified certain DMC evaluation requests as “unwarranted” when there is no explicit suspicion or evidence that the patient might lack DMC. Objective To explore psychosocial and ethical reasons motivating both “warranted” and “unwarranted” DMC evaluation requests by physicians in the medical setting. Methods A retrospective electronic health record review was approved by the institutional review board. All psychiatric consultation requests identified as DMC evaluation requests between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012 were assessed independently by 2 reviewers. Each reviewer identified each DMC evaluation request as “warranted” vs “unwarranted.” Unwarranted DMC evaluation requests were defined as those lacking explicit suspicion that the patient might lack DMC or those with explicit evidence of a patient with blatantly impaired DMC. We hypothesized that most (over half) DMC evaluation requests would be deemed unwarranted. Descriptive statistics, chi-square/Fisher exact tests, and t-test/ANOVA were used. Results A total of 146 DMC evaluations were reviewed, and 83 (56.8%) of these were deemed unwarranted. Of these, most were likely driven by a previous neuropsychiatric disturbance (p < 0.001). Various other psychosocial and ethical patterns were identified (i.e., the practice of defensive medicine and guardianship concerns). Conclusion Over half of DMC evaluation requests in a general medical setting were unwarranted. Many such requests were motivated by unarticulated psychosocial and ethical factors. DMC evaluation requests appear to serve as a means for indirectly resolving various psychosocial and ethical dilemmas beyond assessing DMC itself. Implications and future directions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)483-489
Number of pages7
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017


  • competence
  • consultation psychiatry
  • decision-making capacity
  • ethics
  • psychosocial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Capacity Evaluation Requests in the Medical Setting: A Retrospective Analysis of Underlying Psychosocial and Ethical Factors'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this