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Hospital Emergency On-Call Coverage: Is There a Doctor in the House?

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Publication Date: November 2007

Publisher(s): Center for Studying Health System Change

Author(s): Ann S. O'Malley; Debra A. Draper; Laurie E. Felland

Series: Issue Brief No. 115

Topic: Health (Health services administration)

Type: Brief

Abstract:

The nation’s community hospitals face increasing problems obtaining emergency on-call coverage from specialist physicians, according to findings from the Center for Studying Health System Change’s (HSC) 2007 site visits to 12 nationally representative metropolitan communities. The diminished willingness of specialist physicians to provide on-call coverage is occurring as hospital emergency departments confront an ever-increasing demand for services. Factors influencing physician reluctance to provide on-call coverage include decreased dependence on hospital admitting privileges as more services shift to non-hospital settings; payment for emergency care, especially for uninsured patients; and medical liability concerns. Hospital strategies to secure on-call coverage include enforcing hospital medical staff bylaws that require physicians to take call, contracting with physicians to provide coverage, paying physicians stipends, and employing physicians. Nonetheless, many hospitals continue to struggle with inadequate on-call coverage, which threatens patients’ timely access to high-quality emergency care and may raise health care costs.