Why Your Patient May Be Stalking You

Mark Crane

Disclosures

August 23, 2012

In This Article

Seek Help From Colleagues

The biggest mistake physicians can make is to try to handle the problem alone.

Notifying hospital, clinic, or building security can be helpful. "Many facilities keep lists of potential stalkers at the front desk to check patients as they enter the building," said Dr. Appelbaum. "You should alert your office staff and give them clear instructions about what to do. You may need to tell your neighbors to let you know if someone might be lurking."

If you suspect a patient might want a less-than-professional relationship, you might consider having a chaperone with you during the office visit, or at least never see the patient when you're alone or outside of regular office hours.

"Don't suffer in silence or worry alone," said Dr. Schouten. "If something weird happens, don't keep it a secret. Bring in a consultant and document that. Doctors need to take control of the situation. If the patient is unhappy with your care or becomes overly demanding, you can recommend a consultant, a fresh set of eyes."

When to Seek Help From Police or Courts

In a recent survey of Pennsylvania physicians who've been stalked, only 16% called the police. That reluctance is understandable. "Unfortunately, the response by police isn't always helpful," said Dr. Appelbaum. "Unless there's vandalism or a direct threat, their attitude is that no crime has been committed yet -- even though harassment is a crime."

"If someone is coming around your house, you've got to tell the police, at least to get it on the record," Dr. Schouten emphasized. "It's true that police had been reluctant to get involved, but that attitude is changing and police are now more aware of the dangers of stalking."

Contacting hospital or clinic security and documenting your efforts can show a paper trail that might encourage police to take the issue seriously if other incidents occur.

Should I Get a Restraining Order?

Experts disagree about the effectiveness of seeking a restraining order. "In the general population, these orders are routinely violated," said Dr. Abrams.

"It's an imperfect tool at best," Dr. Appelbaum agreed. "Enforcing restraining orders can be difficult. Judges too often take stalkers at their word that they're sorry and won't do it again. Plus, the stalker craves contact with the physician. Restraining orders are a form of engagement and may be gratifying to him or her."

Still, restraining orders are needed in some cases. "A judge has ordered the patient to stay away from you," said Dr. Schouten. "If he or she violates the order, the police are more likely to take action. Now that the stalking is within the criminal justice system, a judge may order a patient to seek treatment, and a probation officer will monitor that."

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