Let me start by saying that I do not follow all the news stories about Spears or other celebrities. But celebrity status should not negate a patient’s right to privacy and confidentiality. So what the hell was “Dr. Phil” doing and thinking? And why did Cedars-Sinai Medical Center give him access to Spears?
According to media reports, “Dr. Phil” (real name Phillip C. McGraw) was asked by Spears’ father to go see her. Her father has the right to ask him to do that, but “Dr. Phil” — if he is acting in his capacity as a psychologist — cannot just go push himself on a patient and certainly cannot talk about anything the patient said if he is any professional capacity as a psychologist. His statement to ETonline is troubling:
My meeting with Britney and some of her family members this morning in her room at Cedars leaves me convinced more than ever that she is in dire need of both medical and psychological intervention.
That sounds like a professional judgment in his professional capacity. And there is no way that a licensed psychologist should ever make such public statements about anyone whom they saw in an intended doctor-patient relationship unless the patient provides explicit informed consent for disclosure. [Correction: I found out later thanks to doc4nuts that “Dr. Phil” is no longer a psychologist.]
Sandy Cohen of the Associated Press adds:
McGraw planned to talk more about Spears on his daytime talk show this week, the press release said.
TMZ offers some additional information that also suggests highly questionable behavior on McGraw’s part:
People on the 7th floor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center say the doctor arrived about 7:30 AM Saturday. We’re told Britney did not invite him in; she didn’t even know he was coming. Sources say it was Brit’s parents who told Dr. Phil to go to the hospital. When he walked into her room, we’re told, a blindsided Britney walked out — and eventually came back.
Sources say Phil tried speaking with Spears for about 15 minutes — not an hour as Dr. Phil’s press release states — but she wanted none of it.
Sources say Dr. Phil wants to do a television intervention, something that isn’t sitting well with some of the people who have known for a while that Britney has a very serious mental condition — likely a bipolar disorder that is now in the red zone.
TMZ contacted Cedars to find out why the hospital let a television doctor on a floor that has such fragile patients, particularly since Britney had no idea he was coming. It’s especially troublesome that Cedars let Dr. Phil go uninvited to Britney’s room, since she had already been discharged and presumably had a right to know if someone wanted to visit. A Cedars rep made it short and sweet, telling us, “No comment.”
Clearly, a lot of this is unconfirmed, but who is looking out for patient privacy and confidentiality here? Because the incident occurred in California and “Dr. Phil” is not licensed to practice psychology in California (as far as I can tell, anyway), he may or may not have violated their laws. Did he violate Texas’s laws for psychologists? [Clearly not, since he is no longer licensed in Texas]. And did Cedars-Sinai violate HIPAA?
This is not the first time that “Dr. Phil’s” ethics and conduct would be questioned. McGraw was brought up on ethics charges by the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists [pdf] in the 1980’s for having a “dual relationship” with a patient. The Board did not strip him of his license, but required him to obtain supervision of his practice for 1 year, and to complete an ethics course as well as further examinations by the Board.
Perhaps “Dr. Phil” thinks that being a “TV psychologist” permits him to make a mockery of professional ethical standards for psychologists. Perhaps he thinks that everyone “knows” he’s not conducting himself like a “real psychologist” and so feels empowered to trample Ms. Spears’ privacy.
I hope this incident is investigated by appropriate licensing boards and hospital review boards.
Update of Jan. 20th: This thread is still “live” and open for comments. I seem to have been on the warpath about people diagnosing Spears when they are not even licensed as psychologists or psychiatrists, or otherwise turning a serious matter into a media circus for their own aggrandizement or commercial interests. For those interested in the topic, you may also wish to see my later posts on this blog about Dr. Phil and Dr. Lillian Glass and their conduct:
“Dr. Phil” catches some flak and dishes some out
A complaint filed about “Dr. Phil ” but is it well-founded?
People who live in Glass psychology houses shouldn’t throw stones. They should be stoned.
Dr. Lillian Glass backpedals, but is it too little, too late?