Massachusetts Medical Society: MMS On-Call Principles

MMS On-Call Principles

These principles regarding on-call policies, approved by the Massachusetts Medical Society House of Delegates, apply to all physicians.

These principles are separate and distinct from the formal regulations governing resident work hours that must be followed by hospitals for residency program accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).

  1. The MMS opposes government regulation of physician work hours.
  2. The MMS opposes uniform limits or any other consecutive time constraints, as these can compromise patient care and limit flexibility of scheduling within individual physician practices.  Furthermore, the broad diversity of specialty practices indicates that a uniform or standardized approach to regulation of physician work hours would not be appropriate.
  3. Physicians have an ethical duty to their patients and profession to provide safe, compassionate, quality medical care.  These duties depend on a safe and healthy working environment for all physicians.  To this end, clinical responsibilities must be organized in such a way as to prevent excessive patient care responsibilities, inappropriate intensity of service or case mix, and excessive length and frequency of call contributing to excessive fatigue and sleep deprivation. 
  4. The individual physician can most appropriately determine whether the clinical schedule allows the physician to meet her/his ethical obligations to the patient.   
  5. There should be adequate backup if sudden, unexpected patient care needs create fatigue sufficient to jeopardize patient care during or following the on-call period.  Institutions and other practice organizations should ensure that such backup is available if required.  No institution or call system should require a physician to provide clinical care when the physician believes that she/he will not be able to meet her/his ethical obligations to the patient.
  6. Health care delivery systems must have formal mechanisms specifically designed for promotion of physician well-being and prevention of impairment.
  7. As there are different duties defined by each specialty, guidelines for work-hour responsibilities should be made in consultation with each physician, given that responsibilities vary by setting, region, and specialty.  In addition, what constitutes excessive fatigue and sleep deprivation will vary by physician. 
  8. Each specialty department should determine who among its members are required to serve on-call for the emergency department, subject to appropriate compensation to be determined at the local level.  In making the determination for who is required to serve on-call, the specialty department may exempt from call service members above a certain age, or with a certain number of years service to the medical staff, or those serving in medical staff leadership positions.  Other individual exemptions, for hardship, temporary disability, or other reasons may be granted by the chair on a case-by-case basis. 
  9. Physicians and hospitals should work collaboratively to develop solutions to on-call needs for emergency departments; adequate compensation or other appropriate incentives as the preferred method of ensuring on-call coverage; the organization and function of on-call services should be determined through hospital policy and medical staff by-laws; and include methods for monitoring and assuring appropriate on-call performance. 
  10. It is in the best interests of patients when physicians practice in a fair, equitable, safe, healthy, and supportive environment.

This policy is incorporated into the  MMS Policy Compendium.

Approved by the MMS House of Delegates, May 14, 2010


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