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Are you safer from medical malpractice than a movie star?

It might seem like a strange question, but there is good reason to ask if you are safer from medical malpractice than a movie star. It seems odd, perhaps, because we are all familiar with the perks that wealth and fame can bring: big, beautiful homes, expensive clothes, luxury automobiles and the best food at the best restaurants, to name but a few.

It makes sense then that movie, music and TV stars would also benefit from access to the most expensive doctors and best hospitals. But there is a problem with being rich and famous: starstruck physicians and hospital staff. They are sometimes so enamored of their closeness to greatness that they forget that their first duty is to the patient, even if that patient has a household name.

The phenomenon of starstruck doctors has long been recognized, even getting write-ups in medical journals. Known as "VIP Syndrome," the problem plaguing stars with serious medical conditions is believed by some to have contributed to the deaths of Prince, Michael Jackson and Joan Rivers in recent years.

Doctors can sometimes prescribe medications or perform procedures that pose great risks to famous patients; in part, the physicians will agree to the risky care because the stars demand it. VIP Syndrome can also involve starstruck doctors ordering too many tests or not enough tests to be sure of a diagnosis.

Michael Jackson's doctor spent two years in prison for supplying the singer with surgical anesthetic propofol. The eager-to-please Conrad Murray did not even notice when the "King of Pop" stopped breathing, prosecutors said.

Though investigators are still combing through the details of Prince's opioid addiction and subsequent death, some observers believe it, too, bears the signs of VIP Syndrome.

The phenomenon of starstruck medical personnel might mean that the average person in West Virginia is less likely to be a victim of doctor neglect or hospital negligence than the average celebrity. Unfortunately, that doesn't protect any of us from the very real and dangerous possibilities of misdiagnosis, medication errors or wrong-site surgeries.

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