QUESTION: Our Active Staff category requires members to take emergency call. In many specialties, we struggle with finding physicians willing to take their fair share of call. In orthopedics, however, we have a group based primarily at another hospital outside our system who own their own diagnostic facilities, to which they end up referring many patients from our ED for services we can provide. A few patients have expressed concerns about why they were sent to another facility. A few patients have reported that the orthopedic surgeon said the other facility was much better and newer, with no wait time. What can we do?
ANSWER: The purpose of the emergency call obligations connected to Active Staff appointment and privileges is to enable the hospital to comply with EMTALA and provide care to patients who come to the hospital’s ED, not to provide a source of referrals of patients to facilities owned by on-call specialists. If a patient needs an X-ray, in order to evaluate and stabilize an emergency medical condition, the patient should not be sent elsewhere (unless the patient specifically so requests) because that could implicate EMTALA. Follow-up care not needed to treat or stabilize the condition that brought the patient to the ED could be provided elsewhere, and patients can choose where to receive follow-up care. However, on-call specialists should not be marketing their facilities by in essence disparaging the hospital’s services. (Of course, if patients are choosing to receive tests and other services elsewhere, upgrading facilities and adding staff to minimize wait times is a good idea, if feasible.) Some hospitals limit call in some specialties to physicians who are under contract (or employed). The Board can determine how call will be handled in different specialties. Call is a responsibility, not a right or a “privilege.” (It should not be included on delineation forms as a privilege.) So long as departments don’t vote (which could give rise to conspiracy allegations), the Board and MEC would be free to establish how the hospital will satisfy its EMTALA obligations.