Medical Societies are organizations governed by their physician members. Their service generally include medical education for physicians, public health education for physicians and the public, legislative and regulatory advocacy for physicians and patients, and health policy research. Examples of U.S. Medical societies are the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) and the Pennsylvania Medical Society.
Medical societies are generally formed with the following goals:
- Educating patients on the latest health issues;
- Giving physicians vital information on public health, disease management, and patient safety
- Providing information to medical practices on insurance billing and coding, reimbursement, and running a more efficient practice
- Providing physicians with the latest changes from private insurers and Medicare/Medicaid
- Interacting with insurers on issues of concern to physicians
- Representing physicians in key medical issues
- Supporting resolution of the medical liability crisis
- Supporting expansion of health care coverage to the uninsured
- Encouraging physicians to give back to the profession and fulfill a physician’s social contract with communities through volunteering and mentoring
Associations or societies of physicians and surgeons or of practitioners of some particular school or system of healing, created under state law and possessing regulatory and disciplinary powers over their members, are governed by the same general rules as are labor unions, fraternal beneficent associations, and voluntary clubs and associations in general[i].
Before being disciplined, a member of a medical society is entitled to a fair and impartial trial of charges made against him or her as provided by the laws of the society; s/he is entitled to a formal presentation of the charges before the tribunal authorized to hear them, evidence presenting a colorable case against him or her, and a fair opportunity to refute the case. A voluntary medical society is not precluded from trying and disciplining a member for professional misconduct, in the manner provided by its bylaws, by the fact that such misconduct relates to a criminal offense of which the member was acquitted in a criminal prosecution before the courts[ii].
A medical society’s discretion in construing and enforcing its bylaws in a disciplinary matter affecting a member’s rights is not beyond control by the courts[iii] because membership in a medical association is a property right of value, which the courts will protect[iv]. Mandamus would lie to secure judicial determination of the validity of a local medical association’s expulsion of a member for an alleged violation of the association rule that no physician should diminish a patient’s trust in his or her physician[v].
If it is required by statute that a person practicing medicine be a member of the medical society, i.e. if membership is not voluntary, mandamus compelling admission will be granted if the applicant has the necessary qualifications and, at the time of application for membership, is not engaged in activities that would constitute grounds for expulsion from the society if he were a member, notwithstanding that such objectionable conduct was carried on at some prior time[vi].
On the other hand, if membership is not required by law as a condition for the practice of medicine, it has been held that the courts will not interfere, even if admission is arbitrarily denied[vii]. However, it has also been held that, under certain circumstances, relief will be granted compelling admission to membership in a medical society that is voluntary[viii]. For example, if a medical society controls a doctor’s access to hospital facilities, then the society’s exercise of a quasi-governmental power is the legitimate object of judicial concern, and courts will not recognize a society’s arbitrary right to exclude a physician from membership in cases if the organization has a business monopoly or in which membership is an economic necessity[ix]. In such a situation, a membership application can be denied only on the showing of just cause established by the society under proceedings embodying the elements of due process.
[i] Bernstein v. Alameda-Contra Costa Medical Ass’n, 139 Cal. App. 2d 241, 293 P.2d 862 (1st Dist. 1956).
[ii] Miller v. Hennepin County Medical Soc., 124 Minn. 314, 144 N.W. 1091 (1914).
[iii] Falcone v. Middlesex County Medical Soc., 34 N.J. 582, 170 A.2d 791.
[iv] Hackethal v. California Medical Assn., 138 Cal. App. 3d 435, 187 Cal. Rptr. 811 (4th Dist. 1982).
[v] Bernstein v. Alameda-Contra Costa Medical Ass’n, 139 Cal. App. 2d 241.
[vi] Ewald v. Medical Society of New York County, 144 A.D. 82, 128 N.Y.S. 886.
[vii] Schooler v. Tarrant County Medical Soc., 457 S.W.2d 644 (Tex. Civ. App. Fort Worth 1970).
[viii] Pinsker v. Pacific Coast Soc. of Orthodontists, 1 Cal. 3d 160, 81 Cal. Rptr. 623, 460 P.2d 495 (1969).
[ix] Blende v. Maricopa County Medical Soc., 96 Ariz. 240, 393 P.2d 926 (1964).