Porter Memorial Hospital in Denver has settled an antitrust lawsuit with 176 emergency physicians who claimed Porter Memorial was one of 30 hospitals that conspired with the American Board of Emergency Medicine to restrict their opportunities to practice.
The terms of the settlement were confidential, a Porter Memorial spokeswoman said.
Porter Memorial is the first hospital to settle with the emergency physicians, said an attorney for the physicians.
The lawsuit, Daniel vs. the American Board of Emergency Medicine, was filed in 1993 in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, N.Y. A trial date hasn't been scheduled (Sept. 19, p. 20).
Porter Memorial was named in the lawsuit because it administers and operates a three-year residency program in emergency medicine. In 1993, Porter Memorial had 36 residents in its program, the suit said.
The suit charges that the hospitals profit from the present system because it ensures them a steady supply of low-wage residents to staff their emergency departments. In addition, the residents allow the hospitals to reap higher reimbursement from government payers, the lawsuit said.
But the main allegation in the lawsuit charges that the ABEM and the 30 hospitals engaged in anti-competitive conduct by preventing practicing emergency physicians from becoming eligible for ABEM certification by closing the "practice track."
From 1979 to 1988, the ABEM allowed two methods for board certification. One was to complete a three-year residency in emergency medicine. The second was to log more than 7,000 hours and five years of practice in emergency medicine.
By eliminating the practice track in 1988, the ABEM and the hospitals created an artificial "shortage" of board-certified emergency physicians, the suit said.
By 1993, only 11,570 emergency physicians were ABEM-certified, compared with 14,000 emergency physicians without certification. Less than 45% of the nation's practicing emergency physicians are board-certified, compared with an average of 74% in other specialities, the lawsuit said.
Experts have warned over the past 10 years of the shortage of board-certified emergency physicians.
The suit seeks to reopen the practice track and permit emergency physicians to take the certification examination administered by the ABEM. It also seeks unspecified monetary damages.