Hospital and health system executives should brace themselves for a case of union fever.
The American Medical Association, which recently announced plans to launch a national labor union, is one of several healthcare professional associations to join the collective-bargaining fray. Established labor unions, such as the Service Employees International Union, also are stepping up efforts to attract doctors.
And fully expect organizers to rekindle efforts to bring lower-level healthcare workers into the union fold. After all, if it's good enough for doctors, it's good enough for orderlies, cooks and clerks.
A "labor party" is going on, a frightening prospect for hospital managers already facing myriad fiscal challenges. The best way to confront this threat to workplace stability is a calm, consistent public education campaign.
First, remind your board, staff and the local media that the AMA voted to form a union to combat a managed-care-induced erosion of power. AMA union membership appears to be restricted to physicians employed by the government, hospitals, medical schools and other institutions. It's difficult to see how contract talks between a hospital and a physician union will greatly benefit patients or hinder managed-care plans.
Much of the media has been suckered into believing that the physician union movement is about patients and quality of care. Malarkey. It's about physicians' job security, better working conditions, more clout and higher pay. Repeat that theme loudly and often.
Second, suggest that if managed care is the enemy, hospitals and physicians are better off jointly focusing their efforts as providers-in-arms. It's easy to understand why doctors are frustrated by managed care's intrusion into the physician-patient relationship. For many physicians, HMOs translate into a loss of control, lower personal income and a decrease in patient-care quality. However, this struggle has little to do with hospitals.
Despite the hostility, it's difficult to understand how an AMA union will solve the quality dilemma. Healthcare managers need to hammer home that message to all interested parties as they search for ways to avoid overuse and misuse of medical resources.