The idea that everyone should be treated according to his or her wishes is at the centre of the LMC service
New bespoke service connects UAE patients with the right doctors
Kirsty Ettrick never told her husband that he was dying. “I completely hid it from him. I’ve never seen anybody so scared as he was getting the cancer diagnosis. He’d always said: ‘If anything happens, don’t tell me.’ So if we went to a new hospital or something, I’d call ahead and say: ‘Neil doesn’t want to know.’”
Since founding the London Medical Concierge (LMC) earlier this year, Ettrick has met people who respond to illness in all kinds of ways. Some terminally ill patients want to complete a bucket list of experiences, she says, but her husband’s priorities were different. “He was 42 and our children were 2, 4 and 6. Imagine having to look at your three beautiful children knowing you’d never see them grow up.”
The idea that everyone should be treated according to his or her wishes is at the centre of the LMC service. The idea is to connect each patient with a medical expert who specialises in their particular problem, be it heart disease or fertility issues. By sharing her little black book of Harley Street doctors (which took more than a year to compile), Ettrick hopes to spare families the additional distress she went through trying to find the right treatment for her husband.
“It tore my life apart, trying to be there for him and raise the children,” she says. “I was doing everything to try to fix him, researching treatments after he’d gone to bed, talking to doctors in America during the night.”
Neil’s first medical team told his wife that they had successfully removed his cancer (the diagnosis was of cholangiocarcinoma, which affects the bile duct). But she wasn’t convinced and insisted on a second opinion, which revealed that the disease had spread to his liver. The diagnosis became terminal. “The last thing I said to him was: ‘See you later,’” Ettrick recalls. “I’d brought the kids in to see him and, after we left, I got a call to say that his breathing had changed. By the time I got there he was gone, but I knew that I’d done everything to save him.”
The idea for LMC arose when friends and acquaintances started asking for her help in finding cancer specialists for their loved ones. “I realised that while I couldn’t save Neil, I could use my experience to help other people,” she says. “Even insurance companies send people to the wrong doctors and it’s time wasted for the patient.”
She began to discuss the idea with doctors, coming up with a list of about 100 clinical specialists in everything from oncology and dermatology to fertility and mental health. Each had a strong track record, credibility among their peers and a good bedside manner. Crucially, she learnt their individual specialisms. “It’s all very well finding an oncologist for breast cancer, but it’s such a complex disease that needs someone who specialises in [your] tumour. Each one has a niche that we’ve put into a database, so that when a patient calls we know exactly who the right doctor is.”
To make the process as smooth as possible, LMC also offers more traditional concierge services, organising airport transfers, accommodation and private nursing care. Its network of specialist translators, butlers and nannies also makes it easy for families to travel from the Middle East.
Ettrick decided to launch her service formally in the UAE because while medical care here is generally good, she had been contacted by a number of patients who wanted a more tailored approach. She says patients have been particularly impressed by the LMC’s network of oncologists. “Medical care in the Emirates is generally good, but it can be a one-size-fits-all treatment for cancer. Really, you need to tailor the treatment to the individual tumour – yours might react to drug X and mine to drug Y.” Drugs can also be prescribed to lessen the side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea and hair loss.
Perhaps most importantly, patients are put in control of their own treatment. One client with lymphoma was told he needed stem cell therapy, which is expensive, carries a huge mortality risk and involves a six-week quarantine period during which friends and family cannot visit. He asked LMC to find a doctor who would try chemotherapy first, which they did. “He sailed through chemo, and two months later is in full clinical remission,” says Ettrick.
Medical concierges have sprung up around the world over the past few years, helping patients to gain access to top specialists and pioneering treatments they often discover via Dr Google. While these services simplify the process, some families worry that companies may be recommending certain doctors or medical centres based on financial incentives.
Ettrick, however, insists that her main priority is to help people, and the doctors she uses are so sought after that they have no need to push for business. To illustrate the point, she tells the story of a man who called from Abu Dhabi because his wife had a serious brain tumour. He was considering flying her to Mexico for treatment, and LMC arranged a consultation with the top neurologist for this kind of case.
“We did a conference and the consultant said: ‘Do not put your wife on a plane anywhere. There’s no way back from this.’ He was really honest. So I took over – I wasn’t able to help the patient, but I could help her husband, because I can relate to death, and he could call and talk to me about what was happening. At one point he was trying to force-feed her, and I had to explain that she couldn’t swallow, so he was actually hurting her. When she died, he wrote and said that it was ‘the most invaluable thing to have you on the end of the phone to be able to talk through, because you understood’.”