After-hours coverage: national survey of policies and guidelines for primary care physicians.
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OBJECTIVE: To determine the prevalence and content of existing or developing policies and guidelines of medical associations and colleges regarding after-hours care by family physicians and general practitioners, especially legal requirements. DESIGN: Telephone survey in fall 2002, updated in fall 2004. SETTING: Canada. PARTICIPANTS: All national and provincial medical associations, Colleges of Family Physicians, Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, local government offices for the north, and the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: RESPONSE TO THE QUESTION: "Does your agency have a policy in place regarding after-hours health care coverage by FPs/GPs, or are there active discussions regarding such a policy?" RESULTS: The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia was the first to institute a policy, in 1995, requiring physicians to make "specific arrangements" for after-hours care of their patients. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta adopted a similar policy in 1996 along with a guideline to aid implementation. In 2002, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia approved a guideline on the Availability of Physicians After Hours. The Saskatchewan Medical Association and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan formulated a joint policy on medical practice coverage that was released in 2003. Many agencies actively discussed the topic. Provincial and national Colleges of Family Physicians did not have any policies in place. The CMPA does not generate guidelines but released in an information letter in May 2000 a section entitled "Reducing your risk when you're not available." CONCLUSION: There is increasing interest Canada-wide in setting policy for after-hours care. While provincial Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons have traditionally led the way, a trend toward more collaboration between associations was identified. The effect of policy implementation on physicians' coverage of patients is unclear.
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