German doctors go on strike, should American physicians follow?

Doctors are angry.

Some are unhappy with health reform, and others worry that reform didn’t go far enough.

Bob Doherty, in his ACP Advocate Blog, wrote how many physicians are unhappy with the American Medical Association for instance, noting, “there is no doubt that some doctors are angry, very angry, at the AMA. A blog search comes up with dozens of posts about how the AMA has betrayed doctors. It is almost as if the AMA has become the devil incarnate in some doctors’ minds.”

But are doctors willing to as far as their physician counterparts in Germany?

Many countries in Europe, which have systems that health reformers Stateside want to emulate, are also dealing with rising health costs. This consequently is putting pressure on physician salaries and hospital payments. Now, doctors in Germany have gone on strike:

Some 15,000 doctors across Germany are staging a walkout to press for higher pay and better working conditions, a union said on Monday.

Doctors at about 200 public clinics in most German states were on strike and 4,000 gathered for a protest in Munich, the Marburger Bund union said in a statement.

The walkout is scheduled to last all week, but the union stressed it could continue indefinitely if the towns and cities running the clinics don’t make a better offer.

Although I understand the frustration and anger among physicians, I wonder if going on strike, and making life difficult for patients, is the right strategy. Primary care physician Richard Baron spoke to the New York Times, saying, “People do not make the best doctors or policy people or advocates from a position of anger.”

I agree.

Physicians need to ally themselves with patients in order exact change. The AARP, for instance, has been an influential lobby helping doctors fight against the Medicare rate cuts.  Without them, some of those cuts might have gone through.

By themselves, doctors draw little sympathy from the public and have insignificant influence in Congress.

Going on strike will only antagonize patients and isolate physicians. And that, ironically, may only decrease the bargaining power of doctors.

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  • Bladedeoc

    Well it’s not much of an issue here in the US where it is (conveniently for the government) defined as illegal collusion for physicians to seriously TALK about going on strike, much less doing so. We are going to get the failures of the European model (limited care, no autonomy) PLUS the failures of the American one (lawyers, no collective bargaining).

    • oldoc

      Very good comments. Eventually if we do not stand up to the persons with the money we will have to do who knows what.


  • Marc Gorayeb, MD

    Am I in the Twilight Zone? The post lauds the AARP for supporting the medical profession! How can someone engage in such spin so shamelessly? the AARP supported the Health Care Bill, which will extract half a billion dollars from Medicare. Where do you think that money will come from? Massachusetts is seriously considering requring physicians to accept Medicare rates for its other insurance programs. I am simply stupified.

  • oldoc

    The bright way is to join with your patients and get them involved in advocating for primary care docs. Of course the doc must be honest with his advocates. I have been screwed, sued, and literally tatooed before retiring. My patients were my greatest supporters.
    I am angry and can understand why docs strike. Thanks

  • Doc D

    AARP went from being an advocate for seniors, to being an insurance company. Look at their balance sheet; almost all their income comes from selling supplemental coverage to seniors. Membership dues are a tiny part of their profits.

    They supported health care reform because they hope to cash in on the need for additional insurance as the Medicare cuts start to squeeze.

    So, I’m not much interested in AARP’s support. They are part of the financial industry.

    Ultimately, there is no large-scale organizational support for physicians in this country. The AMA has its own political agenda, which is why so few physicians are members.

    • oldoc

      I think you have made a very accurate account of aarp and the ama. Thanks

  • Jean

    I read an article about this strike in a German newspaper (link below) and just want to highlight a few details:
    - The doctors are hospital doctors who work set shifts.
    - One of their complaints is that they get only 1.28 euros extra per hour when they work the night shift, which runs from 3:45p.m. to 8:00a.m..
    - The article says that patients generally don’t notice a difference at the public hospitals with strikes– not even longer waiting times. Of the 40 doctors in the emergency department at the clinic the journalist visited, only two are actually participating in the strike, and they are in a unit that handles post-surgical recovery.


  • Doc99

    Unfortunately, it’s still the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. The Georgia and NY Medical societies got economic impact studies on the impact of Private Practicing Physicians. In NY, they represent the sixth largest employer in NY State. This is the sort of data that will get the legislators’ attention.

  • DG

    Illegal to strike?

    God forbid people that dedicate their lives to medicine stand up for themselves. One step even closer to working at the point of a gun if you ask me. Next we’ll have mandated periods of time someone with a medical degree is required to work… and not work in any other field because so many will be walking away as conditions progressively worsen. From my point of view autonomy has been lost for many years.. and its not coming back anytime soon.

    Medical professionals have been trying to teach reason to the public… but good luck getting the minority to influence a majority like the united states. Idealogy not logic is influencing changes more and more… but the infrastructure isnt changing to support it. Not to mention most people barely understand why the conditions are they way they are.. let alone how to change it.

    Who is John Galt!

  • SmartDoc

    American physicians are already on strike.

    Try finding a Medicaid or Medicare physician if you are a new arrival in many US communiities.

    The Medicare system will serious implode in a few days if the con artists in Washington don’t stop the scheduled 21% cut. The AMA sold out its membership for nothing: for a non-existent permanent solution to the yearly fee decrease ritual.

    The idea that the AARP represents seniors or is an ally is laugable.

  • ninguem

    When they give up their real name and call themselves by the acronym (AARP), I for one tend to wonder if the organization has changed its focus.

  • BobBapaso

    Strike—for what? For a strike to accomplish anything, besides bad press for the strikers, it must have a clear, specific, achievable goal. This profession will never be able to agree on what that should be.

  • Elliiott Bettman MD

    We have to prior authorize even generic medicines sometimes do EXTENSIVE power wheelchair and disability forms redundant “cerificate of need” forms for diabetic supplies each year for patients that will be on test strips till Death do them Part. I’m a dOCTOR Dangit not a Bureacrat!!!

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