Taking the history. Let's look at this in a little bit more detail now.
When you're taking a history start with identifying information of the patient such as demographics.
Things like their name, address, and age. Then you want to go into their presenting complaint.
This should always be in your patient's own words. So, what brought them in to see you today?
Take the history of the present illness, their psychiatric history, social and developmental history,
past medical and surgical history, medications and allergies, and also their family history.
So we've listed here a lot of different types of information you want to include in your history.
We'll look at each of these in a little bit more detail in a moment.
To summarize, when you're taking the history it is crucial that you're creating that therapeutic alliance
with the patient by providing a relaxed and supportive environment, being non-judgemental,
comfortable, and being attentive and caring to your patient.
That patient needs to feel as if they can trust you and this will foster them in opening up.
And also the therapeutic alliance is really critical to gathering the information needed to complete
that mental status exam where you're creating a picture of who that patient is.
So, looking at things in a little bit more detail now. What do you think is important
when you think about that history of presenting illness? So, this is why the patient came to you
and that's a great way to lead things off saying, 'So, what brought you in to see me today'?
Then, you want to invite the patient to describe a little bit more about the current episode
in terms of the symptoms they're experiencing. You also want to know what events
were happening in this individual's life that lead up to this present moment when they've come
to see you, the psychiatrist. You want to know how their symptoms are affecting their work,
their life, their relationships. Also, you want to know about that individual support system.
So, do they have one or not? Who's helping them get through this tough time?
And you also want to know about physical symptoms because we know there's a huge overlap
between our bodies and our minds. So, inquire as to how they're feeling physically at the time
of seeing you. Also, you want to know more about this current episode when I encouraged you
earlier to ask the patient about symptoms they're experiencing. Here's what I meant.
Asking them about vegetative symptoms. These are going to be things like interference with sleep,
appetite concentration. You want to know if there are any psychotic symptoms happening.
So, things like hearing voices or seeing things. Inquiring if the patient is feeling at all paranoid
or out of touch with reality. You want to know how the patient is functioning when they're well.
So, what's their baseline? And you also want to know a little bit more about
their developmental history. Has this problem ever happened before?
Did something happen earlier in their life that could be interfering with their ability to function now?
Ask them what their goals are both in seeing you in a short term, and also long term treatments.
And you also want to know if there's any evidence for secondary gain and what I mean by that
is being attuned when you talk with your patient to trying to identify
if somehow they're going to get something out of having an illness.
For example, could they be coming to the emergency room asking for admission
to a psychiatric unit solely because they're trying to evade homelessness or maybe criminal charges?
So, this is something you just want to be attuned to when you are taking your patient's history.
And all of these questions should be open ended. So, again, avoiding yes and no questions
but rather invite your patient to tell you their story.
When you're thinking about the past psychiatric history, there are a lot of things
that go into this that you want to ask your patient about.
So, you want to ask your patient for example, what's your understanding of your diagnosis?
It's amazing how many patients have seen dozens of psychiatrists in my experience
and by the time they get to me, they have no clue what their diagnosis is.
Some know their symptoms but they've never quite been able to pin point it to a diagnosis.
Others do have a good understanding of what type of diagnosis they have
and so it's really important to ask your patient, 'What do you understand about your diagnosis'
What have you been told before'? And then, you want to go a little bit deeper too.
So, ask the patient if they've ever been admitted into a psychiatric unit.
Beyond that, ask them a little bit about when they were admitted, why they were admitted,
because your approach to the patient is really going to depend on these variables, right?
Somebody who's been admitted to psychiatric units repeatedly for suicide attempts
is going to be treated in one way with a management plan, as opposed to the patient
who's admitted to psychiatric units because of a floored psychotic episode.
So, you want to know kind of what triggered these hospitalizations, you want to know
where they happened, and you want to know what was both helpful to the patient
and harmful to them when they were in the hospital so you can make the best recommendations
possible that they'll be most likely to adhere to. And then you also want to know if your patient
has any current psychiatric providers, are they seeing a therapist, are they taking medication,
and you want to know what their relationship is like to these providers,
what's helped them have a good or a bad alliance and how you can help foster a positive relationship
with psychiatry. Moving forward, when thinking about the psychiatric history
there are a few more specific things you need to ask about. So, you always, always want to ask
about safety. So, this includes asking about suicidal and homicidal thoughts.
Not only in the present current time but also in the past.
If somebody's currently expressing safety concerns, you must dig deeper and ask them,
what concerns they're having, whether or not they have a plan to either self-harm
or harm somebody else, and whether or not they have an intent to carry through
with these plans and the means to do it. You also want to ask about current medications,
the doses, the durations of treatment, and whether their response has been good, bad,
or indifferent. Also, ask if your patient has a history of having electroconvulsive therapy or ECT,
and finally ask what types of out-patient services have been recommended to them in the past
and why or why not they followed through with them.
In addition, knowing what treatments they prefer and why is important and also,
how is your patient's compliance? Asking them a little about what helped them comply with treatment,
were there hindrances, whether it was access to care or medication
but really invite your patient to be honest about their history in the psychiatry experience
and how it's been for them. When exploring substance abuse issues with patients,
this is another very critical part of the psychiatric history and it's something that should be
approached directly and also, non-confrontationally and non-judgementally.
So, ask very clearly what their experience has been with alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and dig deeper.
Ask about frequency of intake, the amount, and what their preferred substance is.
Also, be sure to ask about elicit street drugs. In addition, ask about prescriptions
and over-the-counter medicines that the patient might be taking.
Ask about times where they've become intoxicated, had blackouts, or withdrawals.
What their experience was, what they physically endured, and whether
or not it lead to an emergency room visit or potentially an intensive care unit visit.
You want to ask them if they perceive that they've ever had any problems with substances,
especially with drinking. And also whether or not your patient has ever engaged in a rehab
or a sober program. When taking the past medical and surgical history,
you want to be very thorough here because again, as I've said before, there's a strong overlap
between the physical body and the mind. So, you want to know about every medical problem
your patient has ever been diagnosed with, any surgery that they've ever had,
and you especially want to specifically ask about any head injuries, concussions,
loss of consciousness, any seizure disorders, traumatic brain injury,
and any kind of infective process like HIV or AIDS. When it comes to the family history,
a few things that are really pertinent to ask about are things like psychiatric illness or diagnosis
in the family, if there had been any suicide attempts in the family and beyond that,
any completed suicides within the family, any episodes of violence, and also,
whether or not any members of their family have undergone treatment by a psychiatrist
or in the hospital. When it comes to psychiatry we often think many disorders are genetic
and they run in families. So, I can't overemphasize enough the importance
of taking a good family history. When it comes to the family history,
also ask about medications that a family member has used,
what their response to treatment has been, and also whether or not a family member
has had ECT or electroconvulsive therapy. When it comes to taking a social history,
this is really something that sets psychiatry apart from other medical specialties
and that you want to take this moment and opportunity to really engage with your patient.
So, when you think about that, think about what kind of questions would you want to know
about your patient in terms of their background, their family life, and I'll go through a few now
that might be on your mind. So, you want to ask, where was your patient born and raised?
What was their childhood like? Ask about their mom and dad, who was in the home
while they were growing up and what their childhood was like for them, you want to know
about that relationship to their early caregivers whether it was good, bad, or neutral, and also,
a little bit about their developmental history. So, progression from kindergarten into grade school,
high school, college, how far did they go in education, what was their highest level attained,
and were there any setbacks during that period, ever being held back in school,
any developmental delays, or did your patient meet all of their milestones at the appropriate age.
And you also want to ask a little bit about their employment background,
what kind of jobs have they held, how long have they had their job, do they like their job?
This is really your chance to be curious about your patient.
A few other things to consider would be whether or not your patient has ever been married,
whether they have children? Ask them what kind of hobbies do they have,
what do they enjoy to do, and invite them to really tell you what they have fun with,
where they find pleasure in their life and how they seek that out.
You want to ask patients about any ownership of guns or weapons.
This is very important in terms of when you do their safety assessments.
You also want to know about their religious beliefs. Whether or not they have any legal troubles
and if so, what has been the extent of their legal trouble with the law?
And you also want to ask them a little bit about any history of abuse whether it's physical,
emotional, or sexual. Something important to note is when asking your patient
about sensitive material, things like history of abuse, history of violence, make sure to be direct.
It's really important to keep in mind that if you hesitate or are at all indirect,
your patient might be less likely to open up because they're going to feel uncomfortable
if they sense your unease. This brings us to the conclusion of the psychiatric history and assessment.
This was a broad overview of some of the very important things to consider when taking the history.
So, be sure to keep in mind things like making the patient feel comfortable,
developing that therapeutic alliance, and also, although this is a psychiatric history,
you're really asking your patient about their whole life story and keep that in mind.