May 3, 2018

QUESTION:        We’re revisiting our on-call policy and we’re debating whether to set specific rules on physician response times.  Has CMS issued any guidance on this?

ANSWER:            Yes.  CMS advises hospitals to establish detailed, specific guidelines on physician response times.  In particular, CMS has said that a hospital would be “well?advised to establish in its on-call policies and procedures specific guidelines – e.g., the maximum number of minutes that may elapse between receipt of a request and the physician’s appearance for what constitutes a reasonable response time, and to make sure that its on-call physicians and other staff are aware of these time-sensitive requirements.”

This kind of agency guidance is not mandatory, but from a best practice perspective, we would encourage you to craft an on-call policy that follows this advice.  We recommend that you set a bright-line rule for acceptable physician response times.  The rule should be expressed in minutes.

You can carve out well-defined and carefully considered exceptions to the rule (so long as they are otherwise compliant with the law) if you want to allow for more flexibility.  The key is to have clear, detailed, specific guidelines in your policy.