One in five physicians reports being stalked by a patient

Only 40% of stalked physicians thought their stalker was mentally ill

May 9, 2012

More than 20% of physicians say they have been stalked by a current or former patient, according to a survey presented at the American Psychiatric Association's annual meeting.

In an online survey, Penn State University Medical Center researchers asked 597 physicians and residents at two Pennsylvania hospitals about their experiences with 10 patient stalking behaviors:

    1. Spying or surveillance;
    2. Following;
    3. Loitering;
    4. Unwanted personal approaches;
    5. Unwanted phone calls;
    6. Unwanted written communication;
    7. Sending offensive materials;
    8. Ordering or cancelling services or goods;
    9. Spreading rumors; and
    10. Interfering with property.

Based on the responses, the researchers found that:

  • 38.7% of physicians have experienced at least of the 10 stalking behaviors; and
  • 20.6% had at least one patient who exhibiting stalking behaviors at least three times. 

According to the surveyed physicians, the most common stalking behaviors in patients are unsolicited phone calls, letters, faxes, and emails. Meanwhile, unwanted personal approaches and loitering were among the least common behaviors.

Who stalks physicians
The survey found no clear pattern in patients' motivations for stalking. Altogether, the survey found that only 40% of stalked physicians thought their stalker was mentally ill. It also found that:

  • 30% of stalked physicians thought their stalker liked or was in love with them;
  • 21% thought their stalker was motivated by revenge or punishment; and
  • Nearly 50% had no idea why they were being stalked or offered no explanation in the survey.

Which physicians are stalked
The survey found that male and female physicians report stalking at about the same rate, although female doctors mostly reported male stalkers while men reported being stalked by men and women equally.

No specialty was particularly prone to stalking in the survey.

About 11% of the survey respondents said they considered quitting as a result of stalking, and 7% said they considered changing specialties.

The survey also found that:

  • 26% of physicians increased security at home;
  • 24% increased security at work;
  • 16% contacted the police;
  • 14% contacted an attorney;
  • 11% changed their phone numbers;
  • 9% went out less often; and
  • 2% moved out of their homes (Gever, MedPage Today, 5/8).




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