New federal regulations that provide more flexibility for physicians' call schedules go into effect today.
Under the rules, part of a new interpretation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), CMS has lifted a ban against doctors performing elective surgery or other procedures while on call.
The rules also allow groups of hospitals in the same area to use the same call panel of physicians, which is expected to reduce on-call time for any one physician.
With hospitals sharing the same call panels, experts predict that specialists who were on call as often as 10 nights a month will be able to reduce their commitment to once a month at several hospitals.
However, because some on-call physicians won't always be available under the new system, experts add that large hospitals will need to form secondary call panels to fill in for them.
The final rule, which includes a host of other provisions affecting ERs, was published in the Sept. 9 Federal Register.