The DO | Special Coverage | OMED 2012

Treating celebs and high-profile figures: Not a walk down the red carpet

Physicians and students who wonder if they have what it takes to treat celebrities might ask themselves if they would sit outside a patient’s tour bus for 16 hours in a rough neighborhood in order to convince him to quit smoking crack and go to rehab. This is what Charles J. Sophy, DO, the medical director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, did for a patient recently, and he says treating celebrities often requires extraordinary dedication.

Dr. Sophy

At OMED 2012, Los Angeles psychiatrist Charles J. Sophy, DO, discusses the challenges of caring for celebrities. The session was sponsored by the American College of Osteopathic Neurologists and Psychiatrists. (Photo by Patrick Sinco)

“It takes that level of trust and stick-to-it-ness to get somebody who’s that injured to know that somebody does care,” Dr. Sophy said.

In a presentation today, Dr. Sophy spoke about the challenges of serving a unique population and provided tips for treating high-profile figures.

Last year was rough, Dr. Sophy said. One of his patients, who appeared on the reality show The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, hanged himself, and the media subsequently criticized Dr. Sophy. He wants other physicians to know the lesson he learned from being publicly scrutinized.

“It’s very important for physicians to understand, in the midst of media craziness … you can’t lose sight of who you are and what your focus is as a doctor,” Dr. Sophy said. He added that physicians need to believe in the quality of their work.

More than meets the eye

When treating a celebrity, physicians should avoid quickly concluding that his or her turbulent behavior is the result of a mental health disorder. Physicians should consider other factors that could motivate a celebrity to act erratically. “Do they get money for being crazy?” Dr. Sophy said, noting that the rate of mental health disorders is the same in celebrities as it is in the general population, which is 1 in 4 .

Physicians treating celebrities or other high-profile figures must take a few extra steps during the medical workup, Dr. Sophy said. It’s not enough to rely on the patient’s testimony alone—physicians must speak with the patient’s family and staff about the patient’s health as well.

This point applies to noncelebrity patients as well, noted audience member Julie Brodfuehrer, OMS II. “The fact that he really wants to have a full physical workup and medical clearance for each of his patients is very important,” said Brodfuehrer, who attends the Touro University Nevada College of Osteopathic Medicine in Henderson. “As a psychiatrist or a neurologist, you sometimes don’t think about those because you are referred by the primary physician, who technically would do that. But [the referring physician] may not supply all the information you need.”