Caring for a High-Profile Patient

During this year’s Interprofessional Rounds, a Boston Marathon bombing survivor described how the media requested an interview during her stay at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. Not all the survivors wanted to share their stories so publicly, but our speaker did. So, to accommodate both the media’s interest and the patient’s recovery, her occupational therapist decided to tailor that day’s session about the activities necessary to prepare for an interview.

It’s unusual for a health professional to work with patients and clients who attract attention from beyond their circle of families and caregivers. In fact, privacy rules prevent health workers from divulging details about the people they care for. Yet, even people in the public eye have health and rehabilitation needs, and the media will want to know about their progress.


Professor Marjorie Nicholas (seated right) with a colleague and Gabby Giffords.

For the Schwartz Center Educational Rounds on April 9, 2014, two faculty members discussed the balance they had to strike between privacy and publicity when working with high-profile clients. Marjorie Nicholas, PhD, CCC-SLP, Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, provided speech therapy for Congresswoman Gabby Giffords following her shooting.  “You have to have enough confidence in your own clinical skills that you don’t get starstruck,” she said.


Professor Anne McCarthy Jacobson with Tedy Bruschi

Clinical Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Anne McCarthy Jacobson, DPT, MS, NCS provided treatment for New England Patriots player Tedy Bruschi following his stroke. She recounts the toll of keeping her involvement a secret from even her own family. She would hear colleagues speculate about who was working with the athlete and have to hold her tongue.

The discussion of their experiences raises questions of confidentiality for all health professionals. They also reflected on the equity of care when celebrities can command extra attention and specialized treatment unavailable to most patients. Because the rounds format and time constraints limit the conversation, please continue to share your thoughts about maintaining compassionate care in the face of media attention in the comments section.


Peter Cahn

Role: Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, and Interim Director and Professor in the Center for Interprofessional Studies and Innovation.

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Posted in Schwartz Center Educational Rounds
One comment on “Caring for a High-Profile Patient
  1. Peter Cahn Peter Cahn says:

    Our librarian, Jessica Bell, has identified some recent scholarly articles that reflect on caring for high-profile patients. They are available through Treadwell Library.

    Baum, N. (2013). The care and feeding of your high-profile patients. Journal of Medical Practice Management, 28(5), 292-294.

    Kirshblum, S., Solomon, G. M., Brashler, R., & Kirschner, K. L. (2012). Ethical challenges of caring for VIPs in the rehabilitation setting. Pm & R, 4(7), 517-520.

    Kirschner, K. L., Francisco, G. E., Josehart, C. E., Euliarte, M. A., Neely, K. J., & Kelly, M. (2012). Ethical challenges of caring for VIPs in the rehabilitation setting: Part II. Pm & R, 4(10), 773-777.

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