Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Patients harassing physicians

Men and women in the medical profession may also have to contend with threatening behavior by patients. Although few investigations have examined the prevalence of patient harassment, a meta-analysis in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law in 2015 speculated that estimates could be as high as 20%. 

Anecdotally, physicians report patient stalking, persistent attempts at communication, inappropriate social media contact, and even violent encounters. Several doctors have even paid the ultimate price for a patient relationship gone wrong, as was the case earlier this year when an Indiana psychiatrist was shot to death by the family member of a patient after he refused to write an opioid prescription.


Nelsen AJ, Johnson RS, Ostermeyer B, Sikes KA, Coverdale JH. The Prevalence of Physicians Who Have Been Stalked: A Systematic Review. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 2015 Jun;43(2):177-82.


It has been suggested that physicians are particularly vulnerable to being stalked. Our goal was to examine the prevalence of physicians who have been stalked and the associated consequences for the victims. We conducted multiple searches of PubMed and PsycINFO for articles in English from 1950 to 2013, using the terms stalker, stalking, aggression, assaults, patient, physician, resident, registrar, intern, and trainee. Reference lists of relevant articles were also searched. We developed and used a five-point evaluation tool for critical appraisal of the articles. We found 12 prevalence studies on the stalking of physicians, of which 8 were national surveys and 4 were focused exclusively on stalking. The studies varied in their methodological quality with common limitations including the lack of a national sample, the lack of construct validity of the survey tool and of the provision of a formal definition of stalking, and low response rates. Prevalence rates ranged from 2 to 25 percent, although one study found a prevalence rate of 68.5 percent. Information on the physical and psychological consequences of having been stalked was also limited. Although a substantial minority of physicians reported having been stalked, there remains a dearth of high-quality studies on the topic.

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