Hospitals may ‘coddle’ rich, but they also can kill VIPs

An op-ed in the New York Times Monday examined “how hospitals coddle the rich” by giving “red-blanket” service to VIPs. It only told half the story.

An op-ed in the New York Times Monday examined “how hospitals coddle the rich” by giving “red-blanket” service to VIPs.

According to the author, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital medical resident Dr. Shoa L. Clarke, at least 10 of U.S. News & World Report’s top 15 hospitals nationwide have “luxury” floors or other top-shelf service for the well-heeled. And that might be a problem.

“The real harm of red blankets is in an unanswered question: When I allow one of my patients to be labeled ‘important,’ do I implicitly label the others as less important?” Clarke wrote (emphasis in original).

But, as Clarke does touch on, some physicians are concerned that VIPs might get a lower quality of care than general hospital patients because medical professionals sometimes feel pressured to cater to a patient’s every whim, whether medically necessary or not.

The thing is, the state of U.S. healthcare is so poor that even VIPs can’t be sure they are getting good care. They may be more comfortable in a comparatively luxurious hospital room or suite and they may be paying more for the privilege, but they might also fall victim to a medical error.

I keep coming back to two cases: Rep. John Murtha and James Tyree. Both were VIPs, and both died of preventable medical errors.

Murtha, the longtime Pennsylvania congressman, died in 2010 at what is now called Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, following gallbladder surgery. According to CNN:

The procedure was “routine minimally invasive surgery,” but doctors “hit his intestines,” a source close to the late congressman told CNN.

Tyree, a wealthy financier and publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, died from an intravascular air embolism — one of the National Quality Forum’s “never events” — in 2011 at the prestigious University of Chicago Medical Center. Not only did Tyree have the money for “good” care, he was on the board of the very hospital that killed him.

Both were VIPs. Neither had to worry about whether insurance would cover the procedures. And neither got out of the hospital alive.