Celebrity Patients, VIPs, and Potentates

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Background: During the second half of the 20th century, the literature on the doctor-patient relationship mainly dealt with the management of "difficult" (personality-disordered) patients. Similar problems, however, surround other types of "special" patients.

Method: An overview and analysis of the literature were conducted. As a result, such patients can be subcategorized by their main presentations; each requires a specific management strategy.

Results: Three types of "special" patients stir up irrational feelings in their caregivers. Sick celebrities threaten to focus public scrutiny on the private world of medical caregivers. VIPs generate awe in caregivers, with loss of the objectivity essential to the practice of scientific medicine. Potentates unearth narcissism in the caregiver-patient relationship, which triggers a struggle between power and shame. Pride, privacy, and the staff's need to be in control are all threatened by introduction of the special patient into medicine's closed culture.

Conclusion: The privacy that is owed to sick celebrities should be extended to protect overexposed staff. The awe and loss of medical objectivity that VIPs generate are counteracted by team leadership dedicated to avoiding any deviation from standard clinical procedure. Moreover, the collective ill will surrounding potentates can be neutralized by reassuring them that they are "special"--and by caregivers mending their own vulnerable self-esteem.

Primary Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2002;4(6):215-223

https://doi.org/10.4088/PCC.v04n0602