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Howard Forman

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The still modest lure of physician unionization


“Strike action” (1879), by Theodor Kittelsen

More physicians are considering joining unions.

One  well-known supporter of unionization is David M. Schwartz, M.D., president of a union local that represents 27 hospitalists at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, in Springfield, Ore.

“The biggest challenge for employed physicians is going to be the realization that they’re no longer part of an autonomous profession,” he told Medscape. “They work for people who no longer respect their autonomy.”

The publication reported that his group “is thought to be the first doctors’ local limited to just one specialty. The National Labor Relations Board now lets “micro-units” of employees to join unions, which could boost the  overall unionization of physicians.  It is easier to sign up a small group, such as hospitalists, than to recruit the entire physician workforce in a hospital.

But don’t expect a  rush of hospital-employed physicians to join unions, although things may change as healthcare’s reimbursement revolution accelerates.

Howard Forman, M.D., a radiologist who teaches healthcare economics at Yale, noted that unhappy employed physicians generally have many jobs they can move to — and hospitals’ C-suites’ knowledge of that would tend to prevent unpopular moves that would lead many physicians to quit.

“A few physicians able to move ‘should provide a meaningful lever to change compensation and work requirements for all,’ ‘ Dr Forman told Medscape. For most doctors to agree to strike, ”the times would have to be more desperate than they are now”.

Still, the move to hire cheaper clinicians such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform many of the tasks traditionally performed by physicians, and especially by internists, pediatricians and hospitalists, may soon reduce  the number of physicians’ greener pastures elsewhere.

To read the Medscape piece, please hit this link.

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