Why Physicians Won't Unite to 'Rescue' Medicine

Leigh Page


September 04, 2014

In This Article

Herding Cats: Physicians Are Hard to Organize

One of the reasons physicians don't get heard is that they're difficult to organize. As the familiar saying goes, getting physicians to agree on anything is like herding cats. That's because when physicians speak out, they are expressing their own individual opinions, Dr. Grumet said.

Thinking independently is an advantage when you're a caregiver, he said, because "you have to think outside the box and come up with your own diagnosis," but it's a disadvantage when you want to present a united front.

Presenting a united front, he added, is important, because when the medical profession wants to influence policy-making, it is competing with a variety of interests -- hospitals and the insurance and pharmaceutical industries -- that find it relatively easy to speak with one voice.

"Interests that are well organized and well funded determine healthcare policy," agreed Conrad Lindes, MD, afamily physician in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. Hospitals and insurers have the advantage because they are "basically hierarchies," organized to make policy decisions and carry them out, he said.

Doctors who try to organize their colleagues can get frustrated. "If I were a legislator and I heard many different views coming from physicians, I'd be very confused," said Nathan Laufer, MD, a Phoenix cardiologist who is President-Elect of the Arizona Medical Association (ArMA). "This is part of the reason that we're in the mess we're in today."

Other Contributing Factors

It doesn't help that doctors are notoriously paltry contributors to political action committees (PACs). "Attorneys contribute much more to PACs than physicians do," Dr. Laufer said. In the 2008 election, for example, doctors and all other health professionals gave candidates and party committees $12.1 million, whereas lawyers and law firms gave $25 million, according to a report[2] on donations.

Doctors are also very busy. Dr. Lindes used to participate in family medicine groups, but he stopped attending meetings and is no longer an active member. "I didn't have the time," he said.

Steven Knope, MD, an internist who runs a concierge practice in Tucson, Arizona, has dropped all his memberships in the past few years out of frustration. "Organized medicine can't do anything -- not a damn thing," he said. "Every time I got into a [leadership] position with a group of doctors, it became a complete waste of time. They weren't willing to go to battle for the things that mattered."

The only way physicians could regain power, Dr. Knope contends, is if they resigned en masse from Medicare and private insurers, forcing payers to make concessions. However, the majority of physicians have no desire to do that.


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