BRIEF REPORT: Patient Bullying: A Survey of Physicians in Primary Care



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Background: The bullying of physicians by patients has been documented in several previous studies, which indicate high rates among trainees as well as physicians in practice. However, these studies are few in number, many consist of non– U.S. samples, and no study has examined the subsequent risk for posttraumatic stress disorder among physicians. 

Method: In this study of 61 primary care physicians in predominantly suburban outpatient group practices located in a midsized, Midwestern city, we retrospectively explored the 12-month prevalence of various types of patient bullying behaviors as well as posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms using a self-report method. The study was conducted from November 2005 to March 2006. 

Results: We determined high rates of coercive and threatening behaviors by patients in this sample (e.g., 85% of participants [N = 52] reported office staff being verbally abused; 61% [N = 37] reported being bullied to write a prescription). In addition, 41% (N = 25) of participants acknowledged the need for security or the police to remove a patient from their office. One participant reported sufficient symptoms to meet the criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (according to the Primary Care PTSD Screen). 

Conclusions: Physicians undergo frequent patient bullying.

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2007;9(1):56-58