Providing access to care after office hours is a physician’s responsibility
Taking responsibility for providing care to patients is not limited by a clock or calendar. Providing ongoing care to patients even after the office has closed for the evening or weekend is an expectation of the College and is addressed in a professional standard titled After-Hours Coverage. Unfortunately, assessors who review office practice processes and policies as part of the College’s Physician Practice Enhancement Program (PPEP) often report the absence of an organized after-hour on-call. While at best this can be a big inconvenience to patients who attend an emergency department for minor concerns, at worst, it places patients at risk when the responsible physician or delegate for a critically abnormal laboratory or diagnostic imaging report is unavailable.
In response to the criticism for not providing after-hour on-call, physicians often take refuge in the fact that the practice is wide spread and does not appear to have disciplinary consequences. Registrants are advised that the Physician Practice Enhancement Program reviews office deficiencies with a remedial focus and imposes compliance requirements. However, those who are reported to the College by way of a complaint are investigated by the Inquiry Committee for possible unprofessional conduct. Registrants who have doubts of their after-hours coverage responsibilities are well advised to familiarize themselves with expectations contained in the professional standard.