Skip to main content

Celebrity doctors, beware

By Victoria McEvoy, Special to CNN
updated 11:01 AM EST, Tue November 8, 2011
 Dr. Conrad Murray, right, at his trial. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson .
Dr. Conrad Murray, right, at his trial. He was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson .
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Victoria McEvoy says Murray verdict a cautionary tale for docs who work with celebrities
  • She asks: Why does dealing with celebrities make doctors lower standards?
  • She says doctors dazzled by glamor, money, access, like everyone else
  • McEvoy: Being an enabler for a celeb is wrong; hopefully case is reminder of dangers

Editor's note: Victoria McEvoy. M.D., is assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and author of "The 24/7 Baby Doctor, a Harvard Pediatrician Answers All Your Questions From Birth to One Year."

(CNN) -- Even the most sordid situations can have a silver lining. The Michael Jackson-Conrad Murray relationship may serve as a cautionary tale for any health care provider who works with celebrities. Regardless of whether you agree with the verdict on Murray, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter Monday in Jackson's death, there is little doubt that what served as "health care" for Jackson would hardly meet quality standards, and some would characterize it as drug dealing. That all sorts of boundaries between patient and physician were crossed can hardly be disputed.

What is it about caring for celebrities that causes professionals to lower their standards and often enable unhealthy behaviors? There are several factors:

--Health care providers are no different from anyone else. We live in a celebrity culture where the well-known are held in high regard, regardless of the nature of their talents. While often the interest is prurient, the curiosity surrounding these individuals can cause otherwise normal acting professionals to act in an unprofessional manner.

Victoria McEvoy
Victoria McEvoy

--Celebrities are often narcissistic, demanding people who may make unreasonable demands on providers who may be intimidated or in awe of them.

--Incurring the favoritism of a celebrity can increase the profile of a health care provider, leading to more "business" and more celebrity interactions from the friends and family of the celebrity.

--The world that celebrities live in scarcely resembles the world most of us inhabit. They have private jets, personal shoppers, instant gratification for every need and the adoration of the public. It is hard not to be seduced by this "Alice in Wonderland" world. Many providers are thrilled to be included in the celebrity posse.

--Quite simply, celebrities can offer money to those who can meet their demands, however unreasonable.

--Which one of us would not want to be a fly on the wall witnessing the public adoration and posh lifestyle of the rich and famous? Reality shows are hugely popular just for this reason (along with their train wreck appeal). Becoming a contracted health care provider, such as Murray was for Jackson, allows the provider to accompany the celebrity on this magic carpet ride. Until the carpet crashes.

--It is hard to say "No" to a celebrity who has never been denied.

Most health professionals would swear they do not alter their standard of care for "special" patients and insist they treat all patients the same, without regard to status. In the main, I would agree this is the case. However, I have noticed in many different health care settings that when a celebrity is involved, waiting times are shortened, scarce specialty appointments are miraculously found, staff is just a little more polite and solicitous, and the entire unwieldy health care process is a little more user friendly. The wheels get greased.

There are practical reasons for a health care institution to go out of its way for a celebrity:

It is good public relations. Celebrity endorsement of a doctor or hospital can help with image, fundraising and standing in the community. With the strict Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act guidelines protecting patient privacy, the public should never be aware of which doctor or institution is caring for a patient. However, the celebrity may choose to reveal this information out of gratitude.

Celebrities can be wonderful partners in raising awareness for a disease or condition. Many choose to lend their drawing power to fundraising galas for disease research.

There is, however, a clear line between facilitating a specialty visit for a celebrity and prescribing large amounts of unwarranted painkillers or sleeping medications. The boundary violations seen in Murray's case are so egregious that it boggles the mind. Very few providers have succumbed to celebrity neediness to this extent.

A good outcome from this tragic tale would be a reminder to all care providers not to be seduced by the promise of entrée into the world of the rich and famous. Maintaining the same standard of care and caring for all patients, regardless of stature in life, is something we all profess but may need to be reminded to uphold.

Celebrities should not get less care or more care or different care or even, heaven forbid, the crazy, diabolical pimping that goes on in these selective circles. Being an enabler for a celebrity, whether it be "overcare," extortionist care ($100,000 a month?) or drug dealing is wrong.

Hopefully, this Jackson-Murray chapter is closed; the cautionary tale has been written.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Victoria McEvoy.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT