QUESTION: Our pediatricians have asked that their Nurse Practitioners be permitted to be listed on the on-call list of the Hospital in lieu of their collaborating physician. Is this permissible under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (“EMTALA”)?
ANSWER: No. Nurse Practitioners (or other nonphysician practitioners) cannot be listed on the Emergency Department on-call coverage list. EMTALA requires hospitals to “maintain a list of ‘physicians’ who are on call for duty, after the initial Emergency Department examination, to provide treatment necessary to stabilize an individual with an emergency medical condition.” 42 U.S.C.A. §1395cc(a)(1)(I).
EMTALA specifically requires the physicians on a hospital’s medical staff to be individually listed to provide on-call services necessary to stabilize a patient.
Nurse Practitioners may not independently participate in the emergency on-call roster (formally or informally by agreement with their collaborating physicians) in lieu of the collaborating physician. The collaborating physicians (or their covering physician) must be listed for on-call coverage and must personally respond to all calls in a timely manner, in accordance with requirements set forth in the Bylaws and EMTALA On-Call Policy. Following discussion with the Emergency Department, the collaborating physician may direct a nurse practitioner to see the patient, gather data, and order tests for further review by the collaborating physician. However, the collaborating physician must still personally see the patient when requested by the Emergency Department physician.
A Nurse Practitioner (and other APRNs and Physician Assistants) may be used to assist the on-call physician in responding to call. Any decision to use any of these nonphysician practitioners to respond initially to the Emergency Department should be made by the on-call physician in conjunction with the Emergency Department physician.
If the on-call physician and the Emergency Department physician do not agree, the Emergency Department physician is the final decision-maker. (If the Emergency Department physician disagrees with the on-call physician’s decision to send a Nurse Practitioner or other nonphysician practitioner, the Emergency Department physician is to request the on-call physician to come in.) This decision must be based on the patient’s medical needs and the capabilities of the hospital, and must be consistent with hospital policies and/or protocols.
Nonphysician practitioners – qualified medical personnel (“QMP”) under EMTALA – can perform the medical screening examination under EMTALA. This also means that the QMP has been granted the clinical privileges necessary to perform the medical screening examination, and that the privileges come within the applicable state licensing regulations for that QMP category. The EMTALA requirement in this situation is that the hospital’s governing Board has approved, in writing, the category of nonphysician practitioners who will be performing the medical screening examination.
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