Physicians React: End Retaliation Against Docs Who Speak Out

Gregory Twachtman

October 13, 2020

The lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) has compromised care and has potentially endangered physicians and other healthcare workers who are providing care.

But after some clinicians publicly spoke out about the situation, they claimed that their workplace retaliated against them. In some cases, they say they lost their job because of speaking out.

A recent Medscape article highlighted the risks of publicly criticizing one's healthcare system. Emergency physician Ming Lin, MD, was fired from his position at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Bellingham, Washington, following Facebook posts and messages sent to hospital managers regarding the need for stronger COVID-19 protections. Other clinicians faced retaliation for speaking out on the lack of PPE and other safety issues.

This article generated a range of comments from physicians who were outraged about the situation and from others who recommended unionization to help protect physicians.

A family physician commented, "Physicians being fired for speaking up for what is right is a sign of cowardly, incompetent, insecure 'leadership.' This sort of behavior should be reportable to a board...oh wait...there is no hospital administrator board that might hold them accountable for abusive behavior and refer them to anger management counseling...or passive aggressive tendencies counseling."

One physician suggested that the American Medical Association and the American Osteopathic Association should engage in a class action lawsuit on behalf of those who were retaliated against for speaking out.

"A joint class action suit should be a wake up call to the hospital admins," one reader commented.

Another physician agreed. "I sincerely hope that all of these physicians and nurses find the necessary shark attorneys and sue the pants off of the pertinent organizations/hospitals, accompanied by the appropriate news coverage. The only thing that will possibly turn the boat around is multiple huge monetary settlements."

Another physician explained why taking the class action avenue was better than a lawsuit from an individual physician, noting that most hospital systems have the resources to withstand individual lawsuits.

"A tactic used to win such bad-hospital lawsuits against good doctors is to stretch the lawsuit out until the doctor can no longer afford his or her lawyer," one doctor said. "This I also know from experience."

An orthopedic surgeon added: "It is a David v. Goliath scenario. Even if a lawyer could be hired to bring a class action lawsuit, there is a chance the judge will decide that each defendant must fight individually, and that a class action lawsuit cannot be applied. It is one of the tactics used by the powerful to maintain their organizational clout."

"For any hospital to abuse their staff, when they should be thanking them, is appalling," said a pain management specialist. "Nurses are the most vulnerable, physicians are learning the hard way that as employees they are viewed as expendable existing only to further corporate bottom lines."

Another reaction to the article was related to the possibility of unionizing physicians.

One physician said this kind of retaliation against physicians who are speaking out on safety issues is "another example of why we in healthcare should unionize. Enough getting pushed around by non-physician administrators."

However, there was some pushback to this idea.

"Do we want unions?" one physician commentor asked. "Union bosses collect from our paychecks but would they service their members? Ask the teachers, ask the brave police forces in blue how have their unions helped them gain benefits, retain professional standards, or clean their ranks of underperformers or 'bad apples'? Beware of what you ask for."

Is Solo Practice the Answer?

One commentor noted a very simple solution, though it runs counter to current employment trends.

"My answer to non-medical persons deciding what is best for the medical professionals was to go out on my own," the physician said. "I know it would not be feasible for many, but it was just too bitter a pill having people who only give a hoot about the bottom line dictating to me how to do my job, 'you need to see more patients,' and meetings after meetings! Enough already!"

Said a physician who admitted to being terminated from a hospital for speaking out about patient care: "I am fortunately in solo practice now after enduring the abuses of the hospital system. It only worsens as more physicians surrender their independence and 'work' for hospitals. I have always thought it perverse that they give out 'privileges' to come to their building and do all the work, bring in the clients and endure the liability. When will physicians wake up?"

Gregory Twachtman is a reporter for Medscape Business of Medicine.

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