Health care has become another “velvet rope industry,” where the wealthy get special treatment not available to those without means. Concierge practices cost tens of thousands a year, offering 24/7 access to doctors, luxury accommodations in hospitals, and jumping the queue for visits with specialists.
Does this special treatment make the rich any healthier? Maybe not.
Tiger Woods is one of hundreds of thousands of patients who received spinal fusion surgery in the last year (his fourth back surgery since 2014). Spinal fusion has been criticized for being no more effective than non-surgical options for many people and for contributing to long-term opioid dependence. Woods was recently found sleeping in his car by the side of the road, due to post-surgery medication.
The Baltimore Sun reported last year on how medical centers competing for wealthy patients are offering more services, many of which are unnecessary. For example, hospital websites advertising “executive health programs” included screenings for many tests that aren’t proven to save lives, according to the US Preventive Services Task Force. This increased “observational intensity” for high-income patients turn up incidental findings, causing unnecessary treatment and patient anxiety, researchers note in NEJM.
Another high-profile sports figure, NBA coach Steve Kerr also received back surgery to repair a ruptured disk in 2015, and is still dealing with pain from leaking spinal fluid as a complication of the surgery. Kerr is outspoken about regretting the initial surgery, telling the Washington Post, “If you’re listening out there, stay away from back surgery…Rehab, rehab, rehab. Don’t let anyone get in there.”
Getting enough time with your doctor without feeling rushed and being able to schedule same-day appointments is one benefit of concierge medicine. But when it comes to harmful overtreatment, even the wealthy are not immune.