I've written about boutique medicine elsewhere (5Aug03
) - the practice by which a physician or group will charge an annual premium in return for which they will promise to return calls promptly, not keep the patient waiting in the waiting room, and generally provide the quality of care dinosaurs like me remember from the '50's. Today's N.Y. Times
has an interesting opinion piece
on the practice, but with a twist. Now it's a local hospital that's going boutique, and it's the emergency room where the rich are going to catch a break, if they've already paid the upfront fee. As the paper reports,
The 95-year-old financially ailing Southampton Hospital - the only serious medical emergency center on the South Fork - is offering a plan aimed at wealthy summer visitors whose primary doctors are back in Manhattan and out of reach, presumably along with the hospital's sense of propriety. For $6,000 per family, or $3,800 for individuals, not including doctors' fees, cardholders in the Southampton PLUS plan are entitled to "priority access" to medical care at the hospital from May 28 to Sept. 26. A brochure about the plan was mailed to several thousand summer homeowners from a mailing list the hospital purchased from a source it declined to identify.
Southampton Hospital lets you know that it understands what a drag all this messy medical stuff can be when you're on a busy summer weekend, careening from tennis lesson to benefit to cocktail party with nary a moment to waste sitting around a hospital emergency room. Since "a visit to the emergency department is gut-wrenching enough without the added frustration of filing out multiple forms," the brochure commiserates, PLUS members are pre-registered, which includes being met at the door of the hospital "by a member of the hospital's senior staff." The brochure confides, "You shouldn't have to wait around where your health is concerned,'' and adds, "While we can't guarantee you'll be seen first, we'll do everything possible to get you in and out fast." The plan covers not only family members, but also weekend house guests and "hired help," as the brochure so quaintly describes what must be the au pair.
The PLUS plan motto? "Peace of mind, all summer long." That is, if you're flush.
As the author points out, and the hospital has lately realized, "[i]t is, of course, illegal to give someone priority for medical care because of a cash payment in an emergency room. Since the controversial brochure was mailed, hospital officials have gone to great pains to say that PLUS plan members will have to wait their turn in line with hoi polloi. The plan has been greeted with howls of protest from local doctors, including a Southampton Hospital admitting doctor, Robert Semlear, who told a local newspaper he found the PLUS program 'morally repugnant' and 'elitist.'"