VIP syndrome: Concerns grow about special treatment for elite hospital patients

Critics of VIP treatment for wealthy or influential hospital patients argue the practice hurts both the providers themselves and their other patients, and to effectively do their jobs, hospital leaders and workers must resist pressure to treat such patients differently.

As medical tourism gains popularity, hospitals find themselves in need of protocols for visiting royalty, politicians and others for whom money is no object, according to The Boston Globe. Five years ago, Cleveland Clinic established nine principles for treating VIPs, according to the article. The protocols establish numerous behaviors to avoid, including accepting gifts, bending the rules for such patients or bringing in department chairs to treat them rather than a lower-ranking but better-suited physician.

For an example of precisely what not to do, the Globe reports, take the case of a recent patient at Brigham and Women's Hospital with seeming connections to Middle Eastern royalty. The patient, who was treated in 2014, was allowed to receive routine medications from his personal aides, contrary to hospital regulations, and gave staff thousands of dollars in gratuities. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health last year cited the hospital for waiving its policies, while Brigham and Women's investigated 13 nurses on suspicion of mishandling the patient's narcotics, suspending seven with pay during the investigation before ultimately clearing them.

Nor is the trend of VIP syndrome exclusive to foreign nationals, according to Forbes. Indeed, wealthy patients' demographics are converging with medical advances to create a specialty market for patients seeking luxury treatment, writes contributor Russ Alan Prince. As hospital reimbursements decline, he predicts, look for more providers to seize on elite patients as a new, potentially lucrative revenue stream.

To learn more:
- here's the Globe article
- read the Forbes article