So, while none of us can or should avoid taking care of a VIP patient or family, we do have to be thoughtful—in advance—about how we will approach their care. An article from the Cleveland Clinic offers advice to clinicians taking care of these VIPs, in the form of nine guiding principles:3
- Don’t bend the rules: Although VIPs can exert immense pressure to change our practices and procedures to meet their needs, we should resist any temptation to bend to their wishes. Often, practices and procedures are in place for operational or safety reasons, and veering from them can put both practitioners and patients in harm’s way. Practitioners should be explicit in their conversations with VIP patients, explaining that they will be treated within the boundaries of all the usual operational and safety safeguards that are built into the system, for their own good.
- Work as a team: It must be made very clear to the VIP that the attending is in charge of all medical decision-making, and all other providers will be consultants in their care.
- Communicate: Structured, regular, and predictable communication is a must for the patient, family, and all other providers involved in the VIP’s care. While this can seem very time-consuming, it will save time in the end if the patient, providers, and community understand how and when communication will occur. Predictable communication can also set boundaries on how and when it is appropriate for the patient’s family to contact the attending (e.g. cell phone, text, pager, and so on).
- Carefully manage communication with media: Just as with any patient, a VIP’s confidentiality is paramount. Any media coverage should be carefully planned with the hospital’s public relations department, and the only information that should be shared is that which the patient agrees to in advance.
- Resist “chairperson’s syndrome”: This happens when the family insists on being assigned the most senior physician on staff, even when that physician might not be the one best suited for the clinical scenario. VIP care should be as close to “business as usual” as possible, including being staffed by the “best fit” attending and trainees (in teaching hospitals).
- Care should occur where it is most appropriate: This includes care in an “open” ICU, if that is the level of care needed. This conversation should also be undertaken early in the hospital stay, to ensure that the patient and family understand the rationale and need for matching their level of care with the appropriate care setting, while being mindful of privacy and security needs.
- Protect the patient’s security: High profile patients often are heavily pursued by the media, and all measures should be taken to ensure their safety, security, and privacy. These patients should be listed under an alias or as a confidential patient, to reduce the risk of HIPAA breaches by hospital staff or visitors.
- Be careful about accepting or declining gifts: Accepting and declining gifts can both be hazardous; it would be best to avoid accepting any gifts during the hospital stay, but you can offer to accept a reasonable and appropriate gift after the stay has concluded.
- Work with the patient’s personal physicians: In the event the VIP patient has personal physician(s), it is best to invite their input and show them that you value their opinion; however, it must be clear that the attending has ultimate responsibility for the care of the patient during the hospital stay and that all ordering of diagnostics and therapeutics will be done solely by the attending.
Dr. Scheurer is a hospitalist and chief quality officer at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. She is physician editor of The Hospitalist. Email her at [email protected].