Earlier this week several Wisconsin physicians were found handing out notes to excuse protesters from work due to illness. Their actions were caught on tape by several individuals and news organizations and the videos were posted.
The University of Wisconsin had recently sent out a press release stating:
These UW Health physicians were acting on their own and without the knowledge or approval of UW Health. These charges are very serious and in response, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation, the UW Health entities that employ the physicians, have immediately launched an investigation of the reported behavior.
So they acknowledge that the allegations are very serious and have launched an investigation. Will we know the results of the investigation? Unlikely, the press release continues:
The investigation will identify which UW Health physicians were involved and whether their behavior constituted violations of medical ethics or University of Wisconsin and UW Health policies and work rules. The investigation and any potential future action will follow the established procedures of the University of Wisconsin. Any future disciplinary action taken will be considered a personnel matter and will be treated with the confidentiality required by University of Wisconsin policies
I’m currently a third year medical student, and as a future physician I must say that I am ashamed at the actions of the Wisconsin physicians and find their actions very unprofessional, even unethical. But there are two things to keep in mind when it comes to this investigation. First is what was done, second is what can be proved.
First, what was done. I think it is pretty obvious that teachers called in sick from work when they were not sick, or at least did not have an illness that would have prevented them from doing their job that day or put anyone in danger of contracting their illness. Not knowing the exact details of their contract, it is probably safe to assume that calling in sick when not sick is probably a violation, and a sick note would be required to prove that you were too sick to work. The physicians assisted in this act by providing a note to those they knew were not sick enough to miss work. If they are well enough to travel to the capital and stand in the cold amongst thousands of people and protest, they are probably well enough to stand in front of 20 kids and teach addition. This action resulted in the closing of many schools, ABC news reports at least 15 school districts were forced to close due to the call ins. With the physicians notes, the teacher will now be eligible to get paid for their time off. Maclver Institue has estimated that this will result in around $9 million in taxpayers money to pay for the salaries of teachers while they take the day off from teaching to protest. Now this will certainly also add days to the end of the school year, similar to a snow day, which will add to the costs. The result of the doctors notes: sacrifice in student education and millions in taxpayer dollars in a state that already has financial problems.
Second, what can be proved: not much. Although several of the videos indicate that the physicians asked little to no questions regarding the “patients” health, they will still be able to say that they assessed the patient and deemed them sick. This will work for several reasons. First, they don’t have to tell anyone, anything. HIPPA protects the privacy of patients. Investigators will likely not be able to find out how detailed the assessment truly was. Although it is funny that they will claim the right to privacy to a conversation that occurred on the sidewalk surrounded by 30,000 people, it will still fly. Second, “sick” can mean anything you want it to. As seen in several of the videos, the physicians say things like: “Many of these people have mental anguish, and it can be beneficial to their health to take the day and spend it being consoled by others here suffering from the same mental anguish” Although everyone can look at that statement and see that it is complete rubbish, it will fly from a legal perspective.
In conclusion, these physicians will likely get off scot-free because of the current medical and legal system we have in place. But they sure tarnish the profession, and as a future physician, I am disgusted.