The Danger of VIP Syndrome: How VIP Health Care Can Go Wrong

Better communication fosters better decision-making, and ultimately, better care.

August 3, 2020

Companies use phrases like "VIP access" and "VIP treatment" to refer to a higher level of service, available only to celebrities and other wealthy, influential people. A VIP experience is typically more expensive and offers exclusive benefits. When VIPs are sick or injured, they often insist on special attention from healthcare providers. Hospital leaders go to extraordinary lengths to make VIPs feel at home in their environment; however, those extra perks do not always translate to better care outcomes, especially when medical emergencies arise.

By leveraging their networks and calling in favors, VIPs seek ways to circumvent the normal system as they strive to receive the best care.

Yet, paradoxically, VIPs often receive suboptimal – or even dangerous – care. This is known as VIP syndrome, and it may be responsible for the deaths of Michael Jackson, Joan Rivers, and many others.

How VIP health care can go wrong

Healthcare teams develop standardized processes and procedures in order to provide the most effective care to all patients in a streamlined way. These standards determine how patients with a particular medical condition will be treated regardless of social status. Renowned surgeon Dr. Atul Gawande’s groundbreaking work to develop checklists to simplify the complexity of healthcare delivery supports the industry’s value of standardized care. Checklists, simple yet crucial tools, help avoid preventable medical errors.

In healthcare terms, “standard” doesn’t mean “average.” In fact, care that varies from the standard may be worse care. For example, a VIP may bypass a hospital’s regular check-in processes, which exist to streamline information flow about a patient’s medical care throughout a hospital. If a VIP requests a private, secluded room in order to keep their stay discreet, that can have the unintended consequence of increasing their distance from the nursing stations.

When VIPs or their associates make demanding requests of the medical team, doctors may be hesitant to assert their expert status. Further, medical staff, who are committed to treating all patients with care and compassion, may not appreciate being asked to treat certain patients differently. If the VIP requests additional tests or treatments, doctors are likely to proceed even if the tests are medically unnecessary.

Even for a top doctor, it can be hard to say no to a VIP.

With additional tests and treatments beyond the standard of care, come inherent risks that can be avoided. A patient who undergoes unneeded scans may be exposed to a high level of radiation, and additional testing can delay the process of moving forward with treatment.

How to access the best medical care

The surprising problem of VIPs receiving poor care has a solution: plan care that aligns with how the healthcare system is already built. Better care is possible without workarounds. For starters, VIPs can strategize about how to receive better care by working with a health advisor.

While running emergency departments, I spent years working to standardize the patient check-in process and making sure that everyone on staff followed the same procedures. I founded Better Health Advisors (BHA) to help people who don’t have my healthcare background navigate the complexities of the healthcare system. My company has developed best practices that it uses with all of our clients.

When my team begins working with a high-net-worth individual or family, often referred to BHA by a wealth advisor, we first assess their unique health needs and preferences. Then we create a customized health plan that outlines the strategy for accessing the best care possible. In addition to the clinical considerations, the financial implications of medical care are considered a key component of health planning.

Health care, like the financial industry, is predominantly relationship-based. My team explains medical jargon and treatment options, answers questions, helps VIPs and their families make informed decisions, and provides peace of mind. We assist our clients in identifying and cultivating strong relationships with the best doctors.

We guide communication about health care to make sure health professionals understand the VIP’s medical history, and we discuss new developments at length with the VIP’s providers and family. Better communication fosters better decision-making, and ultimately, better care. Our clients never have to face the burden of navigating the healthcare system and making challenging healthcare decisions alone.

This article is the second in a series for Advisor Perspectives.

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