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American Academy of Emergency Medicine

AMA Votes To Form Physician Labor Organization

In a press release dated June 23, 1999, the American Medical Association announced it had voted at its 1999 House of Delegates Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, to develop an affiliated national labor organization to represent employed physicians to help them advocate more effectively on behalf of their patients.

Randolph D. Smoak Jr., MD, president-elect of the AMA, was quoted extensively in the press release. "This is not for all physicians," Dr. Smoak said. "This will not be a traditional labor union. Your doctors will not strike or endanger patient care. We will follow the principles of medical ethics every step of the way. Our objective here is to give America's physicians the leverage they now lack to guarantee that patient care is not compromised or neglected for the sake of profits. By forming an affiliated labor organization, eligible physicians will be able to fight for quality patient care while remaining faithful to the AMA's historic and unwavering commitment to ethics and professionalism."

In response to this announcement, AAEM sent a letter to Dr. Smoak applauding the House of Delegates for their decision, and expressing our hope that the focus of the labor organization will extend beyond the difficulties with insurers and into the problem area for employed emergency physicians, the physician practice management firms and, in some cases, the hospitals themselves.

In his response to AAEM's letter, dated August 4, Dr. Smoak said:

"Your AMA has heard from many physicians who want and need ways to address their growing frustration when physician and patient interests are subverted by non-physician decision makers. Physicians have been pushed to the brink of despair. An affiliated national negotiating organization will broaden the range of tools doctors can use to level the playing field in negotiations with their employers to better advocate on behalf of their patients.

"This will NOT be a traditional union. Doctors will not strike or endanger patient care. The AMA will closely follow its principles of medical ethics every step of the way.

"The national negotiating organization will be a professional organization focused on patient advocacy and driven by local invitation. This organization will represent employed physicians and eligible resident physicians in collective bargaining with their employers. The national negotiation organization will not organize group practices which qualify as physician-owned and operated.

"We are still in the process of selecting a name and governing body for this organization, but we hope to have it operational within the next two months. At that point we expect it to work in cooperation with other federation groups, such as the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, to represent the interests of physicians and our patients. I urge the Academy to delay forming any agreements with traditional labor groups pending the actual rollout of this entity."

Because of the unfair business practices in Emergency Medicine, AAEM had already explored the unionization possibility for EM physicians but didn't because of concerns over linking up with non-medical organizations that might not share our focus on patient care. AAEM will closely monitor these developments within the AMA and will continue to push them to realize the dangers represented by contract groups and physician practice management firms.

More detailed information about the AMA's decision and the proposed union can be found at www.ama-assn.org.