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Ten questions to ask when structuring a compliant call coverage agreement

Bartt B. Warner (bartt.warner@vmghealth.com) is a Director and Caroline Dean (caroline.dean@vmghealth.com) is an Analyst at the Nashville, TN, office of VMG Health.

The on-call coverage environment has seen significant changes over recent years. While call coverage was once considered to be a requirement alongside clinical services, due to the growing uninsured patient population and emphasis on physician work-life balance, it has become more common for physicians to require additional compensation for providing this coverage. As a result of these changes, hospital leadership faces the difficult task of ensuring sufficient physician coverage to handle emergent case volume, in-patient consults, and continued care for admitted patients. This challenge is further exacerbated by the low quantity of physicians willing to provide the coverage, the rising compensation amounts paid to these physicians, and the need to meet the rules and regulations of the desired trauma designations. Since the passage of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986 (EMTALA),[1] on-call compensation for physicians has become a more significant issue. EMTALA requires hospitals participating in Medicare to have adequate physician coverage to provide medical services to patients presenting to the emergency department. As a result, hospitals are confronted with determining not only the appropriate level of coverage, but also whether such coverage should be provided on a restricted (on-site) or unrestricted (off-site) basis. This discussion focuses on unrestricted (availability or beeper) coverage, during which on-call physicians must be available to report to the hospital within a set, emergent time frame.

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