Teaching residents to practice independently is a core objective of graduate medical education (GME). However, billing rules established by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) require that teaching physicians physically be present in the examination room for the care they bill, unless the training program qualifies for the Primary Care Exception Rule (PCER). Teaching physicians in programs that use this exception can bill for indirectly supervised ambulatory care once the resident who provides that care has completed six months of training. However, CMS does not mandate that programs assess or attest to residents’ clinical competence before using this rule. By requiring this six-month probationary period, the implication is that residents are adequately prepared for indirectly supervised practice by this time. As residents’ skill development varies, this may or may not be true. The PCER makes no attempt to delineate how residents’ competence should be assessed, nor does the GME community have a standard for how and when to make this assessment specifically for the purpose of determining residents’ readiness for indirectly supervised primary care practice.
In this Perspective, the authors review the history and current requirements of the PCER, explore its limitations, and offer suggestions for how to modify the teaching physician billing requirements to mandate the evaluation of residents’ competence using the existing milestones framework. They also recommend strategies to standardize this process of evaluation and to develop benchmarks across training programs.