Why Your Patient May Be Stalking You

Mark Crane

Disclosures

August 23, 2012

In This Article

Documentation Is Essential

It's crucial to document every interaction with someone you think may be stalking you. "Messages on voicemail should be saved or transcribed. If you see the patient hanging around your parking lot, document that as well," said Dr. Appelbaum. "Law enforcement may be inclined to dismiss stalking behavior, but a documented record of sustained incidents over time will encourage them to act."

Save all suspicious mail, even if it was sent anonymously. Save all gifts or notes the patient leaves. "Document what the patient said and what you said in response in setting limits," said Dr. Schouten.

Documenting all incidents can also help against a charge of abandonment if you decide to terminate the patient from your practice. Under ordinary circumstances, the American Medical Association suggests giving the patient 30 days' notice. However, if the patient is making threats against you or your staff, you are under no ethical obligation to continuing seeing the patient.

If you discharge the patient, send a written letter via certified mail with return receipt requested, and follow established guidelines for helping him or her continue care and obtain medical records.

The Massachusetts Medical Society suggests that the termination letter include some version of the following: "Your constant and inappropriately suggestive phone calls, your following me in your car, and your intruding yourself into my life outside the office represent an ongoing violation of my right to feel safe at my workplace and in my home. The extreme discomfort I experience as the object of your stalking leaves me no choice but to terminate our professional relationship."

If you suspect that a patient's interest in you goes too far, pay attention to how the behavior makes you feel, experts recommend. Taking steps to protect your privacy and dealing with boundary violations as soon as they occur can make a big difference.

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