Doctors take risks by treating celebrity patients

Treating a celebrity may not be all that it’s cracked up to be.

In the wake of Michael Jackson’s death, a recent piece from American Medical News summarizes some of the dangers physicians face by taking on celebrities.

The piece cites a study which concluded that “celebrities were an average 17% more narcissistic than the general public,” and perhaps because of this, some “are extremely manipulative, and there is a lot of drug-seeking behavior.”

When treating a celebrity, the standard doctor-patient relationship doesn’t apply, with the patient’s fame upsetting the dynamic:
“It is a power issue,” said Dr. Turton, a Sarasota, Fla., internist. “In a normal doctor-patient relationship, there is a well-defined power relationship. The doctor has the power to prescribe, and he follows his professional tenets to do that appropriately, and we depend on him for that. But if the patient has power over the doctor, then it short-circuits those professional guidelines and safeguards. … That is the conflict of interest — who are you really taking care of here, yourself or your patient?”

And to compound that difficulty, if the doctor takes a stand against a celebrity, he or she can be easily replaced by another who will eagerly fill the role.

So, beware when taking on high-profile patients. I’m sure Michael Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, is having some serious second thoughts right about now.

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  • Dr. Mary Johnson

    “. . . if the doctor takes a stand against a celebrity, he or she can be easily replaced by another who will eagerly fill the role”.

    And/so? Whose excuse does that sound like? If celebrity (or anyone else) asks you to do something that is clearly wrong/unethical/unsafe/not in their (or your) best interests, TAKE A STAND.

    Say No. Quit. Walk away. Report it to the appropriate authorities if need be.

    After all, the AMA (“it’s a power issue” – just classic) will help protect you when you do.

    Yes, I was being sarcastic.

  • Stu

    And isn’t Concierge medicine a close second to this situation?

  • IVF-MD

    This article merely points out things that MIGHT happen and conditions that MAY be present at times. But its tone is slanted towards suggesting that these things are more common than not.

    In my experience, high-profile patients may require special logistical accomodations, such as coming in through the back entrance or being seen after hours, but the fundamentals of medical care are completely within the limits of what everyone else gets.

    One thing that adds to the difficulty of confidentiality is the need to DRASTICALLY minimize the number of staff involved. We end up keeping their care secret from most of our own staff. This means that sometimes, I end up having to draw their blood myself to avoid involving a phlebotomist.

    So as long as this author is not trying to argue that all medical care for celebs is fundamentally different, then I’ll concede the point that there are some interesting modifications that are necessary to maintain their privacy.

    As for how it all affects the MD’s decision-making, in our experience, it has made no difference. In our field, the goal is always to help the patient get pregnant in as expeditious, but conservative a manner as possible. If they opt to begin with more advanced techniques, they can choose to do so within reason, but that option is permissible for any patient irrespective of celebrity status or not.

  • Melben

    They say that Michael Jackson had 16 aliases to receive these medications. This Doctor was probably one of many who treated him and was with him during the hardest time, his comeback..

  • Greg

    I wholeheartedly agree with the above article. As an internist who has, in the past, had a few “celebrity” patients, I can say that I have learned to refuse to see those types in recent years, or at least recommend they go elsewhere. Often celebrity or very wealthy patients will pay in cash, which means you get paid at your actual rate, not at some forced discount that you have had to accept from medicaid or insurance companies. But beware these patients as you may find yourself enabling their self-destructive behaviors.

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  • Soronel Haetir

    Personally this sounds like a good reason to cut the government tie on the medical market. Let any patient do what they will. They either will or will not act responsibly, but that should not be society’s care.

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