Hundreds of Illinois physicians are participating in a work stoppage today for malpractice reforms, but because they call it a "strike," they don't have the support of Chicago-based AMA and the Illinois State Medical Society.
The Illinois action is virtually identical to recent walkouts by doctors in New Jersey, Florida, and West Virginia that did not use the term "strike" and gained strong sympathy--and sometimes explicit support--from organized medicine.
As in the other states, the Illinois protesters are canceling elective work for the day, rallying at the state capitol in Springfield and making arrangements for colleagues to deal with emergency and urgent care.
But the use of the term "strike" by organizer Thomas Pliura, M.D., raises a red flag for the AMA despite its professed sympathy with such actions, says AMA spokesperson Mike Lynch.
Lynch says AMA policy specifically opposes physicians undertaking strikes.
"This effort is calling itself a strike, so that really kind of limits what we can say," he explains.
The Illinois society expresses deeper opposition to the work action in a release this week, citing a "long-standing opposition to physician strikes or work stoppages."
"We are a profession, not a union," says ISMS President John Schneider, M.D., in the release. "Our ethical standards require us to put the interests of our patients first at all times. We don't want to put anyone at risk by withholding care."
In contrast to Illinois, the Medical Society of New Jersey endorsed its doctors' work stoppage earlier this month, and some New Jersey county societies even helped organize it despite strong opposition from state Commissioner of Health Clifton Lacy, M.D.
"The Medical Society of New Jersey strongly supports the efforts of New Jersey physicians to communicate their outrage with the failure of the legislature to take meaningful action to resolve the medical liability insurance crisis," an MSNJ statement read.
But Pliura, who is also an attorney, says medical societies should actually distance themselves from such actions because they could be exposed to an antitrust investigation, while an individual doctor would not be.
Pliura also parts company with the AMA and his state society over malpractice reforms. While the two groups are pursuing federal legislation to cap noneconomic damages, Pliura says he is not convinced that caps would help and is calling instead for mandatory arbitration of claims.
Pliura's view found support Tuesday in a statement by 70 leaders in healthcare, including the heads the American Academy of Family Physicians, the California Medical Association and some leading academic institutions.
In an open letter to Congress, they said caps won't go far enough and called for basic restructuring of the legal system for medical malpractice, although they gave few details.