Prince, Michael Jackson, Joan Rivers and Eleanor Roosevelt may have all had something in common.
All of them may have been victims of “VIP Syndrome,” in which doctors enter risky territory and cater to the demands of the rich and famous, according to a report in The Washington Post.
The dangerous pattern of physician behavior, in which they give special treatment to those with star power, was identified in the medical literature as early as 1964 and can mean those VIPs actually receive worse healthcare than the average Joe, according to the article.
Star-struck doctors may not exercise their best judgement in an effort to please their VIP patients. For instance, less than a week before Prince’s April 21 death from a fentanyl overdose, reports say first responders treated him with a medication commonly used to reverse opioid overdoses, yet no one insisted the singer get into immediate treatment for a possible addiction problem. Jackson’s personal doctor supplied him with the surgical anesthetic propofol to help him sleep. Rivers’ doctor took a cellphone photo of the comedian on the operating table. And Roosevelt was misdiagnosed and died in 1962 of tuberculosis, which might have been cured if proper tests were done.
The Cleveland Clinic, which five years ago published principles for doctors caring for VIPs, warned against bending the rules for famous patients. Doctors must avoid any unusual practices, such as making house calls to celebrities, Barron Lerner, M.D., who authored a book on how doctors treat celebrity patients, told the newspaper. Angling for donors, some hospitals are also guilty of giving VIPs preferential treatment.
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