QUESTION: We entered into an exclusive contract with an anesthesia group, and were wondering whether we can require the anesthesiologists and other group personnel to submit to drug and alcohol testing?
ANSWER: Yes – as long as testing is addressed in the contract. Since exclusive contracts are usually between the hospital and the group – and not with the individual physicians of the group – only the group itself is actually bound by any requirements set forth in the contract. Therefore, it’s important that the contract language state that each of the group’s physicians, as a condition of providing services at the hospital under the contract, shall be free from the influence or presence of alcohol or drugs and that this shall be enforced by the group, which shall conduct testing of its physicians at the time of conditional offer of employment, following a reasonable suspicion of use or abuse, and upon return to work after a leave of absence for drug or alcohol treatment. This approach can be reinforced by requiring every physician of the group to sign an agreement to be bound by all the terms of the hospital’s contract with the group (and the contract should state that the group will require each physician to sign such a statement as a condition of employment). Also, a hospital and its medical staff can achieve a similar result by having drug and alcohol testing requirements in the bylaws or another medical staff policy. Since a group’s physicians would have to be appointed to the medical staff and granted clinical privileges in order to practice at the hospital, the group’s physicians would have to comply with any requirements in the bylaws or other policies, including those for drug and alcohol testing.