Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) issued statements today applauding a recent decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that will provide rural hospitals with the staffing flexibility needed in order to satisfy a federal emergency room “on call” staffing requirement. Thune and Udall, who have been raising concerns about this issue for some time, introduced legislation earlier this year to correct this workforce regulation, the Strengthening Rural Access to Emergency Services Act (S. 328).
“This CMS decision is an important step in continuing to ensure access to emergency care to those in rural areas,” said Thune. “The memo issued to rural hospitals on this decision largely mirrors the legislation I introduced with Senator Udall earlier this year, which emphasizes that telehealth technology can be used to provide high quality, cost-effective care while also providing hospitals with the flexibility needed to best serve their community. Using telehealth technology in emergency rooms in rural hospitals helps ease problems in recruiting physicians to rural areas, and I look forward to continuing to work with CMS and my colleagues to ensure access to care for those in rural America.”
"I am glad CMS is recognizing how beneficial telehealth can be and look forward to working with them closely to expand these services for rural Americans," said Udall. "I am pleased to work with Senator Thune on bipartisan legislation to promote telehealth services, which have been pioneered in hubs like those in our state through the University of New Mexico Department of Emergency Medicine. Telehealth helps providers serve patients in their local communities and helps rural residents avoid unnecessary travel to a hospital far away. This uses medical resources and taxpayer dollars more efficiently while keeping patients closer to home and family, and I'm very encouraged this decision will help make telehealth services more available. "
On June 7, 2013, CMS released a guidance memorandum that clarified that emergency telehealth services can be used to fulfill the federal emergency room staffing requirement for an “on call” physician when an associate provider, such as a physician assistant or nurse is already on site at the eligible rural emergency room. Prior to the release of this memorandum, some hospitals interpreted the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act as having to require a physician to be on call and able to arrive to the emergency department within 30 minutes, even if an associate provider, such as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, was already covering the emergency department. This decision gives rural hospitals the needed flexibility to create emergency room staffing arrangements that best meet the needs of each individual hospital while still protecting the safety of patients.To read CMS’s guidance memo, click here.