SAN FRANCISCO — When John Battelle's teenage son broke his leg at a suburban soccer game, naturally the first call his parents made was to 911. The second was to Dr. Jordan Shlain, the concierge doctor here who treats Mr. Battelle and his family.
"They're taking him to a local hospital," Mr. Battelle's wife, Michelle, told Dr. Shlain as the boy rode in an ambulance to a nearby emergency room in Marin County. "No, they're not," Dr. Shlain instructed them. "You don't want that leg set by an E.R. doc at a local medical center. You want it set by the head of orthopedics at a hospital in the city."
Within minutes, the ambulance was on the Golden Gate Bridge, bound for California Pacific Medical Center, one of San Francisco's top hospitals. Dr. Shlain was there to meet them when they arrived, and the boy was seen almost immediately by an orthopedist with decades of experience.
For Mr. Battelle, a veteran media entrepreneur, the experience convinced him that the annual fee he pays to have Dr. Shlain on call is worth it, despite his guilt over what he admits is very special treatment.
"I feel badly that I have the means to jump the line," he said. "But when you have kids, you jump the line. You just do. If you have the money, would you not spend it for that?"
Increasingly, it is a question being asked in hospitals and doctor's offices, especially in wealthier enclaves in places like Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and New York. And just as a virtual velvet rope has risen between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else on airplanes, cruise ships and amusement parks, widening inequality is also transforming how health care is delivered.