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.

✓ Join 150,000+ subscribers
✓ Get KevinMD's most popular stories