Healthcare Practitioners and On-Call Duties: Top Questions on Liability Risks

Richard F. Cahill, JD, Vice President and Associate General Counsel, The Doctors Company

On-call services are a critical part of healthcare delivery, particularly in an emergency department (ED) setting. Patients who present to the ED with complex signs and symptoms often need testing, imaging studies, and observation that require a focused specialty referral. Without the ready availability of consultations by trained specialists, continuity of care is drastically impaired and the risk of adverse events escalates significantly.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) imposes statutory obligations that govern the nature and scope of assessments, evaluations, and follow-up for individuals who present to the ED seeking care. EMTALA enforces strict requirements for facilities—including provisions that apply directly to on-call practitioner services.

Top Questions

The experts in our Department of Patient Safety and Risk Management frequently respond to questions from members about on-call obligations. Here are answers to the top questions:

For additional assistance, contact the Department of Patient Safety and Risk Management at (800) 421-2368 or by email.

The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider considering the circumstances of the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.

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