Leaders of the American Medical Association are discussing how organized medicine might mediate between hospitals and their employed physicians.
Any initiative would come from the AMA's new private sector advocacy division, headed by Todd VandeHey, former chief operating officer at Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo.
So far, the AMA is mum on details. "We never talk about things until they're firm policy," a spokesman says.
The AMA plans to have a model structure in place by the second quarter, according to a December 1998 report by the AMA board of trustees to the association's House of Delegates. The structure would be voluntarily recognized by employers and similar to a medical staff model. It would pose an alternative to forming a collective bargaining unit under the National Labor Relations Act.
Providing an alternative to trade unions is on the front burner for the AMA. Just this month, the Service Employees International Union launched an initiative to recruit hospital-employed physicians.
No winners. Here's more evidence that lavish jury awards should be taken with a grain of salt:
Five years and countless appeals after Blue Cross and Blue Shield United of Wisconsin filed its antitrust lawsuit against the Marshfield (Wis.) Clinic and the clinic's Security Health Plan HMO, both sides finally have found something to agree on: The case is over.
Last month a federal judge issued a three-year injunction against the clinic, which a jury found guilty in 1994 of dividing markets with competitors. But the order is rather limited, directing the clinic and its HMO not to allocate markets with competing plans or physicians.
Most of the jury's verdict, along with an astonishing $16.2 million damage award against the clinic, which was trebled to $48.6 million, was tossed out by an appellate court in 1995.
This month the Blues was awarded 15% of its lawyers' fees, or $799,117. The clinic and Security Health Plan HMO were awarded appellate costs of $113,766, for a net judgment for the Blues of just $685,351.
The Blues declined to discuss the case, saying it's trying to forge ahead with its new contracting relationship with the clinic.
The domain game. The Republic of Moldova apparently isn't much into the Internet, but it knows the value of a hot Internet property. So the former Soviet republic is licensing its globally assigned domain name-".md"-to entrepreneurs, banking that healthcare providers will pay for a distinctive, medical-sounding World Wide Web address.
Four American registration services for Internet domain names have licensed the cybersuffix and are marketing it in English-speaking countries. Professional Domains, of Beverly Hills, Calif., has registered more than 1,200 .md domain names, says Frank Weyer, the firm's president.
He knows of no hospitals among the takers, though.
Another service, Domain Name Trust of Bonita Springs, Fla., reports hundreds of physicians, hospitals and other providers have signed up since last November. For example, Retina Consultants of Fort Myers, Fla., registered www.eye.md. A Naples, Fla., plastic surgeon named John Strohmeyer, M.D., nabbed facelift.md.
Getting an .md domain name may seem like a great idea, but there's a catch. Unlike .com, .md isn't available simply by paying a one-time $35 registration fee. Because of the licensing overhead with Moldova, users must pay an annual $299 fee, which includes five e-mail addresses and 25 megabytes of space, or enough for a Web site of about 30 to 40 pages, Weyer says.
Changing fortunes. HMOs and physician practice management companies were only recently-it seems like last week-Wall Street's darlings. Now, Fortune magazine has added its voice to the growing discontent with leaders of those market segments.
Fortune's list of "America's Most Admired Companies" finds that two of the 10 least admired companies are managed-care giants Foundation Health Systems and Oxford Health Plans. MedPartners, a PPM now exiting that business, was rated even lower, ahead of only two other companies among the 469 analyzed.
Merck & Co., the nation's largest drugmaker, made the list of the 10 most-admired companies, at No. 9, while ServiceMaster was ranked No. 1 among outsourcing companies.
Foundation, MedPartners and Oxford "scored poorly on financial soundness, use of corporate assets, keeping talent, and community and environmental responsibility," Fortune noted.
Alert ends. Hospital administrators can breathe easier: Furby has been declared harmless.
That the endlessly talkative doll has set millions of adults' teeth on edge is not a matter of debate, but hospital executives worried that medical equipment might be scrambled by the infrared transmitters Furbys use to "talk" with one another.
But ECRI, the Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based tester of medical devices, recently concluded that Furbys pose no detectable danger to medical equipment. Its findings were published in the January/February edition of the journal Health Devices.
"The Furby threat has reached the dimensions of an urban legend, but we tested for infrared and electromagnetic interference, and found nothing," says Mark Bruley, vice president of ECRI's accident and forensic investigation division. About 170 man hours were devoted to testing in various simulated hospital settings, he adds.
Unlike most urban legends, the Furby saga has an actual origin: A physician in Scotland late last year observed the doll caused interference with his home television set, Bruley says. The physician asked his hospital to ban the dolls, and U.S. hospitals followed suit.