The term “VIP Syndrome” was coined back in 1964, two years after the death of Eleanor Roosevelt. This syndrome describes how the allure of fame and influence of wealth can cause doctors to act negligently or recklessly when treating famous people.
For months, Roosevelt was misdiagnosed with aplastic anemia, for which she was treated with the steroid prednisone. However, the condition had been misdiagnosed and she was actually suffering from tuberculosis, which eventually caused her death after the steroids continued to weaken her immune system.
A doctor’s clouded judgement can lead to misdiagnosis.
Although misdiagnoses happen all the time, many medical professionals attributed the negligence in Roosevelt’s case to VIP Syndrome, where ordinary principles of care were abandoned or overlooked because she was famous. Medical experts said this stemmed from the doctors’ decision to spare her the discomfort of a bone marrow biopsy, causing the true diagnosis to be missed.
This isn’t the only time the death of a celebrity has been blamed on this syndrome. The most recent cases involve world-famous musical talents Prince and Michael Jackson, and actress Joan Rivers.
Michael Jackson died from cardiac arrest after he overdosed on propofol, a powerful anesthetic used to sedate patients intravenously under strict supervision. Instead, the powerful sedative was given to him in his personal residence by his doctor, Murray Conrad. Dr. Conrad was convicted of wrongful death in a civil trial and sentenced to two years in prison.
Similarly, Joan Rivers died on Sept. 4, 2014, after going into cardiac arrest following a routine endoscopy. In this case, the hospital granted Ms. Rivers a privilege they wouldn’t have even considered for a typical patient. The doctor performing the endoscopy allowed Ms. Rivers’ personal throat doctor to examine her, as well, even though he wasn’t authorized to practice at that location. So far, neither doctor has been accused of wrongdoing or of contributing to the cause of her death.
Be careful what you wish for — special treatment isn’t always the best option.
These cases shed light on what can happen when a doctor’s judgement becomes clouded — and that getting special treatment isn’t necessarily the best option when it comes to health care.
Even Steve Jobs, who died of pancreatic cancer, said he regretted the special treatment he got during his fight with the deadly disease. At the time, Jobs was adamant about trying alternative methods of treatment when what was really necessary was surgery to remove the cancerous tumor on his pancreas. The cancer spread and the special treatment he received ended up costing him his life.
For most people needing medical treatment, VIP Syndrome isn’t a huge concern. Shedding light on this syndrome illustrates the fact that physicians, who should be some of society’s most trusted patrons, are susceptible to clouded judgment and can cause harm to their patients.