Physician interest in unions on the rise

Boardroom

As more and more doctors leave private practice for employment at healthcare organizations, interest in unions has inevitably followed, according to an article in Medscape, though questions remain about their ultimate utility for physicians seeking to stand up to management.

Unionization’s appeal to doctors who find themselves ceding what used to be an autonomous profession to administrations with which they find themselves at odds makes sense, says Frank Proscia, M.D., president of the Doctors Council union, which represents around 4,000 physicians and dentists. He reports fielding an increasing number of questions from doctors interested in establishing unions because “one doctor speaking up against management is not going to be heard.”

The realities of medical practice have made unions a less than perfect fit to date, however. Physicians in Oregon unionized in order to resist an initiative that aimed to outsource their system’s hospitalists. While successful, Medscape points out that the subsequent negotiations between the union and the healthcare system took nearly two years to hammer out.

The nature of medical practice and doctors’ responsibilities to their patients complicate the effectiveness of physician unions. As much as doctors may clash with management, a majority of them look to become employed in order to avoid dealing with the administrative hassles of running a business, as FiercePracticeManagement has previously reported. In addition, a lot of the leverage unions hold over management comes from the threat of a strike, an action that arguably poses a danger to patients or that could ultimately backfire, causing patients to blame doctors for their inconvenience, rather than the situation the doctors are protesting, according to the article.

In the end, the solution may involve a new model of physician unions that caters to doctors’ specific needs and de-emphasizes striking, says Stuart A. Bussey, M.D., J.D., president of the Union of American Physicians and Dentists.

- see the article