QUESTION: May a physician be on-call for more than one hospital at the same time (take “simultaneous call”) or perform elective surgeries while on call? If so, is that physician required to identify a specific back-up physician who will take calls at our hospital if the original physician is called to another hospital or is in the middle of an elective surgery when called by our hospital?
ANSWER: CMS doesn’t specifically require that another physician be identified to take back-up call if the original on-call physician is performing elective surgery or is taking call at another hospital when the ED needs assistance. Instead, CMS says that a “back-up plan” must be in place. Per CMS, “some hospitals may employ the use of ‘jeopardy’ or back-up call schedules,” indicating that other hospitals may choose to not use back-up call schedules. Here’s the full quote from the EMTALA Interpretive Guidelines (found in Appendix V of the Medicare State Operations Manual):
The [hospital’s] policies and procedures must also ensure that the hospital provides emergency services that meet the needs of an individual with an EMC [Emergency Medical Condition] if the hospital chooses to employ any of the on-call options permitted under the regulations, i.e., community call, simultaneous call, or elective procedures while on-call. In other words, there must be a back-up plan to these optional arrangements. For instance, some hospitals may employ the use of “jeopardy” or back-up call schedules to be used only under extreme circumstances. The hospital must be able to demonstrate that hospital staff is aware of and able to execute the back-up procedures.
Of course, a hospital may decide that it’s On-Call Policy will not permit simultaneous call or elective surgeries while on call. Or, a hospital’s policy may require on-call physicians to identify a specific individual to provide back-up coverage in such cases. The key is to clearly identify the requirements in the hospital’s On-Call Policy.