You may not be alone. Recent studies indicate that about 15-20% of physicians have been stalked at some point during their careers. As physicians often don’t report these incidents, experts think the numbers are higher than reported. Stalking can vary between seemingly innocuous behavior to more intrusive and concerning behavior such as loitering around the office, sending gifts or threats, excessive curiosity about your personal life, or worse.
Paul Appelbaum, MD, Director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at Columbia University says that “if the physician doesn’t set boundaries, it can escalate into inappropriate or even dangerous behaviors. Many doctors who seek my advice about stalking situations haven’t notified hospital security, their department heads, or police”. He advises physicians to “confront the behavior immediately, even if it has not yet become full-blown stalking. The doctor should nicely but firmly indicate that the relationship must be professional and cannot lead to a social friendship.” Data indicate that psychiatrists are the most stalked physicians, followed by surgeons and obstetricians/ gynecologists. Patients may be seeking a romantic relationship, or they may be dissatisfied with their medical treatment.
Physicians are encouraged to pay attention to warning signs or feelings of discomfort with a patient. Making hospital or clinic security aware of the problem is recommended, along with thorough documentation to show a paper trail which may be helpful if the situation progresses. “It’s crucial to document every interaction with someone you think may be stalking you....Law enforcement may be inclined to dismiss stalking behavior, but a documented record of sustained incidents over time will encourage them to act.”
Keeping these records is crucial in case you decide to terminate the patient from your practice to avoid a charge of abandonment. The AMA suggests giving the patient 30 days notice unless the patient is making threats against you or your staff. To discharge the patient, send a certified letter with return receipt requested, and follow normal guidelines to provide continuance of care and medical records.
Excerpted from Medscape Business of Medicine, 2012 WebMD, LLC