What If You Get Stalked by a Patient?

Mark Crane

Disclosures

August 02, 2017

In This Article

When to Consider a Restraining Order

Experts are reluctant to endorse seeking a restraining order, but there are times when it may be advisable.

"The decision to seek a restraining order is a complex one, and we don't take it lightly," said Dr Schouten. "In intimate partner violence cases, the greatest risk for violence occurs immediately after a restraining order has been obtained. The restraining order is seen as an act of hostility, which increases the risk for violence.

"In order to get a restraining order, the complaining witness may be required to appear in court to testify, providing an opportunity for the stalker to get close to the victim, which in some cases intensifies the attachment of the stalker to the victim," Dr Schouten said. "Restraining orders are pursued only after other efforts to manage the behavior have failed and a decision is made that the benefits outweigh the risks."

Dr Appelbaum agrees. "Restraining orders can be helpful but they are no panacea. Really committed stalkers may just ignore the order even if they get arrested or confined. We know stalkers who've been jailed. Then they start stalking again. A restraining order may be necessary to set the stage for subsequent criminal charges. But they don't end the stalking. There's always the concern that an angered stalker will become more aggressive."

How to Document Stalking Incidents

Documentation of the harassment is crucial, experts say. "Retain any unusual emails, letters (with envelopes), text messages, packages, etc," said Dr Schouten. "Beware of letters and packages with characteristics such as excessive postage, heavily wrapped in tape, or lack of a return address. These should not be opened and should be referred to hospital security or police.

"Where the harassment is persistent and particularly hostile, hospital security or human resources can often arrange to have emails from the offending party forwarded to a separate mailbox for monitoring.

"The behavior of patients who cross boundaries and are persistent in their behavior should be documented in their medical record, along with efforts made to address the behavior," Dr Schouten adds. "This will protect the physician against charges of abandonment should the behavior not stop and the physician needs to terminate the relationship. That documentation should be accurate and concise—just the facts—but sufficient to describe the situation. The physician should consider keeping more detailed notes separately."

Physicians who have been stalked also have this bit of advice for other doctors:

"The effect of stalking is psychological, to make you doubt yourself," said the Midwestern psychiatrist. "The best thing you can do is be a good clinician. Don't let the stalking affect your confidence. Contact security right away and document all of the offensive contacts."

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