VIPs: Hospital clinicians feel the pressure when elite patients demand special attention, care

Doctor patient
A new study finds that clinicians feel so much pressure to cater to elite or influential patients that they may provide unnecessary medical care.

It’s not easy for physicians to treat wealthy or influential hospital patients. In fact, a new study finds that clinicians feel so much pressure from these “very important person” (VIP) patients that they provide unnecessary medical care.

The study, published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, defined VIP patients as those who received extra niceties, such as private or luxury-style rooms, better views, access to special menus or dedicated personal care attendants, that went above and beyond the basic level of care and services a hospital typically provides.

Lead author Joshua Allen-Dicker, M.D., of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and his team surveyed hospitalists at eight different hospitals across the country and asked them about how they felt about VIP care.

Most of the 78 respondents who reported there were VIP services available to patients at their hospitals said they had felt pressured by a VIP patient or family member to order extra tests or treatments that they thought were medically unnecessary. More than a third said they felt pressured by other hospital employees or representatives to comply with the VIP’s demands.

The research team also found that caring for a VIP may impact a physician’s clinical decision-making.

More troubling, Allen-Dicker told WBUR, is that the unnecessary care may adversely affect the patient’s experience or even decrease the quality of care they receive.  

But more research is necessary to determine how hospitals can address VIP care, he said, because the study only addressed the physician perspective on VIP care and not the actual quality of care VIP patients receive.