NJ doctors stage slowdown to fight malpractice threat

TRENTON, NJ: New Jersey doctors took an unprecedented job action last week, and made sure the media knew about it.

TRENTON, NJ: New Jersey doctors took an unprecedented job action last week, and made sure the media knew about it.

The New Jersey Medical Society helped coordinate a statewide work slowdown of physicians to protest what the group said are soaring medical malpractice insurance rates that have become particularly onerous in recent years.

The slowdown comes on the heels of less publicized physician job actions in West Virginia and Florida.

The New Jersey Medical Society retained The MWW Group, based in East Rutherford, NJ, to help generate publicity for the slowdown.

"Without lots of media coverage, this is really pointless," said Dr.

Robert Rigolosi, the president of the Medical Society. "We needed to retain a PR firm because we wouldn't have been able to gain nearly as much attention without them."

The media offensive, which included several coordinated events and rallies, was successful at gaining media hits both locally and nationally. New Jersey media outlets were saturated with coverage during the week, while national and international outlets covering the story included the Los Angeles Times and the BBC.

The job action, during which many doctors refused to perform non-emergency services, was positioned to be as much about patients as it was about the doctors themselves.

According to executives at MWW, the strategy was to characterize the slowdown as a demonstration of how patient care might be severely curtailed if the soaring malpractice insurance rates are not addressed.

"The focus has been on patient care throughout this effort," said SVP William Murray. "It has been about making sure that nearly every part of this action has highlighted how this affects patient care."

The coverage has led to doctors' groups from other states - as well as the national physicians' trade group, the American Medical Association - to reach out to the New Jersey group.

"We have even been contacted by a group from Japan, where they say they are facing a similar problem," said Rigolosi.

The slowdown, which had been in the planning stages for several weeks, was thrown a curve ball when the Columbia space shuttle tragedy occurred last Saturday morning, just two days before the action was scheduled to begin. The action went ahead as scheduled, but the tragedy forced the group to tone down its rhetoric to match the somber national mood.

Still, physicians seemed to participate en masse, with an estimated 4,000 rallying in Trenton on Tuesday to encourage the state legislature to consider passing new laws that would limit damage awards in malpractice cases.

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