July 19, 2018

QUESTION:        We have two physicians in two different specialties, all four of whom have been willing to take emergency call two days each week, but they have announced that they want their employed advanced practice clinicians (“APCs”) to take their call on weekend days; they are no longer willing personally to take any call on weekends.  ED visits are rare in one of those specialties but common in the other.   Does that comply with EMTALA?

ANSWER:            According to CMS, hospitals must have specialty call schedules that meet the needs of patients in the community.  With only two physicians in any specialty, a reasonable call schedule can be developed with arrangements to transfer patients on the days (known in advance) when those specialists are not on call.  CMS will consider “all relevant factors” in determining compliance, and would expect that the call schedule be based on data showing when patients seek care in the ED for the specialties represented on the medical staff.  Are these specialists on call for their own practices on weekends?  That would be a factor to be considered per CMS.  Another hospital to which patients in need of a specialist on a weekend are transferred might report your hospital, leading to an investigation.  The specialists’ refusal to provide any weekend call thus could put the hospital in jeopardy.  CMS allows APCs to participate in the response to call pursuant to policies adopted by a hospital board.  However, CMS does not permit APCs to be listed on the call roster independently (even if they can practice independently in your state). CMS likely would not accept the inclusion of the APCs on the call schedule in lieu of a physician specialist (despite the newer language in the CMS Conditions of Participation and Interpretive Guidelines calling for APCs to have a greater role on the medical staff).  If a patient presents on a weekend in an emergency medical condition, needing the care of the specialist who employs (and supervises/collaborates with) the APC, the physician would be responsible to come in if the ED physician determines that the specialist is needed personally.  (That could be a condition of the grant of privileges.)  It would be best to convene a working group of physician leaders (including an ED physician), the management team, counsel, risk management and at least one Board member to review data showing when patients present to the ED in need of various specialties, and the relative burden among the specialties on the staff. That group can develop a compliant plan.  The risks are significant so it behooves every organization to develop a policy.

Be sure to join Ian Donaldson and Barbara Blackmond for The Complete Course for Medical Staff Leaders!  We cover EMTALA basics, as well as solutions to common dilemmas, in an entertaining way.

January 18, 2018

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?

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.