If you are taking a vacation this summer, have you made arrangements for how emergencies will be handled during your absence? Being available by cellphone 24/7 might not the best option for you nor for your clients. Instead, consider making arrangements for a colleague to take emergency calls while you're gone, and state the phone number in your phone's voicemail announcement.

Considerations in choosing a colleague for emergency coverage


A good fit

The colleague who covers for your practice should have experience with the types of clients who are likely to call. The professional's degree and licensing need not match yours. For example, if you are a psychologist with many clients who have borderline personality features, and you have two colleagues - a psychologist who works primarily as a business consultant, and a social worker who sees clients who are similar to yours - choose the latter to cover for you while you are away.

Financial arrangements

It's common in these types of situations that no money changes hands. Your colleague covers for you now, and you return the favor at another time. It is not unethical to get paid for covering one another's practice, but there may be legal and/or tax implications (for which you should get appropriate professional consultation if you decide to go this route). Whatever your arrangement with your colleague, you should have a written agreement, spelling out the terms.

Convenience and affordability for the client

Most of the time the colleague who is covering your practice will just talk to your client for a few minutes on the phone, and will not charge for it. But what if the client needs to be seen in person? If your colleague is two hours away, that could be an obstacle for someone in crisis.

Another problem might arise if you take insurance and your covering colleague does not. If the client needs to be seen while you're away, how will they be billed? Will they be charged the other clinician's out-of-network full fee? If so, you'll need to inform your clients, via voicemail greeting or on your website, that if they have an emergency they can call Dr. Substitute, but it will cost them, say, $150 vs the $40 copay that they have with you.

In your written agreement with your colleague, include details about billing for services for your clients.

Liability

Obviously, the colleague who is covering for you should have professional liability insurance, and should be willing to show you proof of coverage. You should also check with your malpractice insurer regarding your own liability, in case one of your clients has a bad experience with your colleague while you're gone, and then names you in a lawsuit or licensing board complaint.

Set up your coverage now

The best time to set up coverage for your practice is well before you take time off. Even if your planned time off is a few months away, it's a good idea to arrange coverage now, in case of accidents, serious illness and other unexpected events.