New Jersey doctors who walked off their jobs for about a week last month to protest rising medical malpractice insurance premiums were trying to cause "chaos and confusion" among patients, according to private e-mail messages among doctors that were intercepted by a consumer group.
One e-mail advised colleagues not to reschedule cancelled patient appointments in order to "significantly inconvenience them," according to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights of Santa Monica, Calif., which did not elaborate on how it acquired the e-mails.
In a release from last week, the foundation says another doctor's e-mail read: "Any physician who doesn't want to participate shows just how disrespectful he is of his colleagues and of his profession. He should be ostracized by his colleagues both professionally and economically just as any other 'scab'."
The foundation, which opposes doctors' proposed tort reforms, says the e-mails "illustrate that the urgency of the so-called 'insurance crisis' appears to be more closely tied to political opportunism and timing than any true malpractice crisis."
John Shaffer, a spokesperson for the Medical Society of New Jersey, which supported the walkout, acknowledges that the e-mails appear to be real but adds they involved just a few physicians "blowing off steam."
Moreover, he says most of the doctors who walked out took great pains to accommodate their patients.
"In many cases, doctors personally called patients with appointments scheduled (during the walkouts) and explained to them why they were closing," he says.
Shaffer says a poll for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., done during the walkout, found that 68% of New Jersey residents approved of the action.
While almost all the doctors who walked out a month ago are back at work, Shaffer says they have changed the nature of the debate. The state legislature, which had been ignoring calls for reform, is now considering a bill for a $300,000 cap on noneconomic damages and a special fund to augment payments to victims of malpractice that juries deem "catastrophic," he says.