Intensive Care Unit Procedure Areas

Credentialling For Common Bedside Procedures

In the past, nearly all internal medicine residents were required to perform common bedside procedures during residency. However, currently, bedside procedure competency is no longer required during residency and the result is that hospitals are often challenged to have credentialed hospitalists available to perform them. These procedures include central venous catheter placement, arterial line placement, thoracentesis, paracentesis, lumbar puncture, endotracheal intubation, arthrocentesis, and bone marrow aspiration/biopsy. In order to ensure that the hospital has coverage for these different procedures requires innovative provider coverage models and careful wording of credentialing requirement documents.

Summary Points:

  • Fewer internal medicine residents learn to perform common bedside procedures during residency than in the past.
  • Hospitalists are less likely to be able to perform these procedures than in the past.
  • Hospitals require innovative tactics to ensure that credentialed healthcare providers are available 24-hours a day to competently perform common bedside procedures.


Residency & fellowship training program requirements

There are two organizations that dictate residency and fellowship training requirements, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) and the specialty board. In the case of internal medicine, the specialty board is the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM). The ACGME determines what the training programs have to teach and the ABIM determines what competencies trainees must have in order to become board certified. For internal medicine residents, the ACGME program requirements document states: “Residents are expected to demonstrate the ability to manage patients by demonstrating competence in the performance of procedures as appropriate to their career paths“. The ACGME document further states: “Experience must include opportunities to demonstrate competence in the performance of procedures listed by the ABIM as requiring only knowledge and interpretation“. In other words, the ACGME defers to the ABIM to dictate what procedures are required. The ABIM procedure for certification document states: “Not all residents need to perform all procedures. Program directors must attest to general competence in procedures at end of training. Residents must have the opportunity to develop competence in procedures which will further their development as fellows in their chosen subspecialty or as independent practitioners in their intended fields if entering practice after residency“. In other words, the ABIM leaves it up to the resident to decide what procedures he/she wants to do and leaves it up to the residency program director to determine if the resident is competent to perform the procedure.

The ABIM also dictates competency requirements for subspecialties. As relevant to bedside procedures, the ABIM requires the following:

Notably absent are the procedures of lumbar puncture and paracentesis that are not required by any ABIM subspecialty for board certification.

The ACGME has different requirements for what procedures subspecialty fellows need to be competent to perform during their fellowship training. In many cases, the ACGME subspecialty requirements differ from the ABIM subspecialty board requirements. Notably, paracentesis is required for gastroenterology, pulmonary, and critical care fellowship training. Also, lumbar puncture is required for pulmonary and critical care training. The ACGME has the following requirements for subspecialty fellows:

Although most hospitalists do internal medicine residencies, some hospitalists do family medicine residencies. Neither the ACGME nor the American Board of Family Medicine have specific procedure requirements.

In some hospitals, emergency medicine physicians perform many bedside procedures for hospital inpatients when there is no other provider available to perform those procedures. The ACGME training requirements for emergency medicine includes competency (with required numbers of procedures) in endotracheal intubation (35), central lines (20), lumbar puncture (15), sedation (15), and chest tubes (10).

The bottom line from the ACGME and ABIM is that hospitalists come out of residency training with variable procedural skills. Increasingly, many of them are not proficient to perform any bedside procedures. Over time, it can even become difficult for those residents who do want to be trained in bedside procedures to get that experience. Residents can only perform a procedure under the supervision of an attending physician who is credentialed for that procedure. As fewer of their internal medicine attendings perform these procedures, it can become difficult for the residents to get experience doing procedures during their training. This can result in a patchwork of consultation for procedures: anesthesia for endotracheal intubation, pulmonary for thoracentesis, rheumatology for arthrocentesis, interventional radiology for lumbar puncture & paracentesis, and surgery for central lines. In the middle of the night, it often falls to the emergency medicine physician on-duty to perform any bedside procedure.

Hospital credentialing

The ACGME and ABIM only determine what procedures are necessary to be taught during training or to become board-certified. Decisions about whether or not a physician is permitted to perform a procedure lies with the hospital’s credentials committee to set criteria for hospital privileges. There are two types of privileges: core privileges and optional privileges.

Core privileges are those that any physician credentialed in a given specialty can perform, without additional requirements. It can be easy to select a procedure to include in core privileges when either the ACGME dictates that competency in that procedure is required to complete residency/fellowship training or the ABIM dictates that competency is required to become board certified in that specialty. For example, the ACGME requires cardiology fellows read at least 3,500 EKGs during fellowship training and the ABIM requires pulmonologists be proficient in conscious sedation to become board certified. But credentials committees can also add additional procedures into core privileges that are not required by either the ABIM or the ACGME. These are typically procedures that are commonly performed by residents or fellows in their training even though they may not be specifically required by the ACGME or ABIM. In this case, the procedures are usually listed in the hospital privilege application with the option for the applicant to either request or opt out of each individual procedure privilege. It is then up to the department chair to attest whether or not the applicant is competent to perform that particular procedure. Including lumbar puncture in core privileges for hospitalists is an example.

Optional privileges are those for procedures that some physicians in a given specialty perform but others do not. These are generally not procedures that either the ACGME or ABIM specifies in their requirements and are procedures that require a relatively high level of skill or high level of risk. Often, the credentials committee will require documentation of successful completion of a certain number of these procedures under supervision. Including endotracheal intubation as an optional privilege for a hospitalist is an example.

When a physician get his/her initial appointment to a hospital’s medical staff, it is usually for a short probationary period – typically 6-months. At the end of the probationary period, if the new physician has not had any major quality issues, that physician then moves from a probationary appointment to a regular, full medical staff appointment. The probationary period is an opportune time for physicians who lack adequate training in a procedure to learn how to do that procedure and generate sufficient procedure numbers to qualify for hospital privileges for that procedure when they move from a probationary appointment to a regular appointment to the medical staff.

Hospital privileges usually last for 2 years at which time the physician must apply for re-credentialing. For core privileges, this usually just requires the physician to request those privileges without additional documentation (other than approval by the department chairman). Optional privileges will usually require documentation of on-going competency, such as a patient procedure log documenting the number of that particular procedure the physician has performed in the past 2 years. It is important that the credentials committee is careful and realistic in choosing which procedures require a specific number every 2 years to retain privileges for that procedure. For example, if the hospital has 18 hospitalists and there are a total of only 25 lumbar punctures performed in the hospital every 2 years, then if the credentials committee requires every hospitalist to perform 10 lumbar punctures every 2 years to retain lumbar puncture privileges, none of the hospitalists will realistically be able to do enough lumbar punctures to meet the privilege requirement. That hospital will soon find itself with no hospitalists credentialed to perform lumbar puncture.

Some practical solutions

It is the credentials committee’s obligation to ensure that anyone performing a procedure in the hospital is competent to do that procedure. It is the medical director’s obligation to ensure that when a patient needs a particular procedure, there is a person with hospital privileges available to do it. In order to meet both of these obligations, there are some specific tactics that the hospital can take.

  1. Include procedures that are already in ACGME or ABIM requirements in core privileges. In this case, there is no need to “recreate the wheel” by requiring procedure logs and it only results in applicants keeping unnecessary duplicate records. For example, since the ABIM requires that cardiology fellowship directors attest that a cardiology fellowship graduate is competent to perform cardioversion and since the ACGME requires cardiology fellows to document doing at least 10 cardioversions to graduate from fellowship, there is no need for a new cardiologist to have to provide procedure logs in order to become privileged to perform cardioversion as a member of the medical staff.
  2. Strategically include other low-risk procedures in core privileges. Since most hospitalists are general internists and neither the ACGME nor the ABIM have requirements for any procedures, this will apply to just about any procedure included in hospitalist core privileges. These should include those procedures that are commonly performed during residency and are relatively low risk. Examples are skin punch biopsies, arthrocentesis, and lumbar puncture. Giving the applicant the ability to opt-in or opt-out for individual procedures on the hospital privilege applications allows those hospitalists who have not been trained in these procedures to opt-out. The responsibility of confirming that the hospitalist is competent to perform these procedures thus lies with the division director or department chair who has to sign-off on the application before it goes to the credentials committee. This overcomes the problem of performing a specific number of a rarely performed procedure every two years, especially for procedures that pose relatively low risk of complications, such as a skin biopsy or lumbar puncture.
  3. Include optional privileges for any conceivable bedside procedure that a hospitalist might perform. This is particularly useful for procedures such as central venous catheters and endotracheal intubation. Some internal medicine residents perform many of these during residencies and become quite proficient with them. If a medical staff applicant can produce a procedure log documenting 20 successful proctored endotracheal intubations during internal medicine residency (which is the same number of intubations required by the ACGME for emergency medicine), then that internal medicine hospitalist should be eligible for intubation privileges.
  4. Develop training opportunities for optional procedures. If the hospitalists are the only physicians in the hospital at night, then hospitalists need to be credentialed to perform endotracheal intubation and central venous catheterization. If they were not adequately trained to do these procedures during residency, then the hospital needs to provide that training. At our hospital, we had new hospitalists without prior intubation training spend a couple of mornings in the operating room with our anesthesiologists to get a minimum number of proctored intubations. We additionally required then to perform a specific number of emergency intubations in the ICU and during code blues that were observed by one of the senior hospitalists. We also required them to attend an airway course in our simulation lab in order to get additional experience using different laryngoscopes, bougies, and end-tidal CO2 monitors.
  5. Don’t forget about ultrasound. Bedside ultrasound is routinely used during thoracentesis, paracentesis, arterial lines, and central venous catheters – it makes performing these procedures safer and reduces complications. In fact, many residents and fellows have never performed these procedures without using bedside ultrasound. Residents and fellows typically go through a formal ultrasound training course in a simulation lab. Completion of such a course is often required for bedside ultrasound privileges. We found that many of our older physicians learned how to use bedside ultrasound during their regular clinical practice and never attended an ultrasound course. When documentation of attending a course was required for hospital privileges, these physicians had to stop using ultrasound. The hospital has to be careful with ultrasound privileges – by being too strict, it can force physicians to do procedures such as central line placement without ultrasound guidance with the unintended result that patients are being made less safe. The reality is that today’s bedside ultrasounds are simple to use – it took me longer to learn how to use my fish finder sonar than the hospital ultrasound device. As ultrasound becomes increasingly ubiquitous during residency training, separate credentialing to use ultrasound for venous access guidance makes about as much sense as requiring separate credentialing to use a stethoscope.
  6. Utilize simulation labs. Particularly when credentialing or re-credentialing a physician for an infrequently performed procedure, a simulation lab can be invaluable. Performing a procedure is a skill and like every skill, the more you practice, the better you get. A simulation lab can allow a physician to do many practice procedures and can provide an opportunity for a more skilled proceduralist to give technique pointers and feedback. Although intubating a manikin is a lot different than intubating a live patient during CPR, practice in a simulation lab can at least allow a reduction in the number of live patient procedures required for re-credentialing every 2 years.
  7. Allow non-physician staff to work at the top of their license. Once again, endotracheal intubation is a great example. Respiratory therapists are trained in performing intubation during respiratory therapy school and most states allow respiratory therapists to perform intubations. When our hospital replaced our previous hospitalist group with a new hospitalist group, the new group did not perform intubations (and did not want to). We permitted our respiratory therapists to be credentialed to perform intubations at night (when hospitalists were the only physicians physically in the hospital). We used the same process of anesthesia proctored intubations in the OR, attendance at a simulation lab airway lab, and a specific number of emergency intubations observed by a previously credentialed provider.
  8. Utilize advance practice providers. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants do not have any specific procedure experience required during initial training. There are some advance practice provider fellowships (for example, our medical center has a 1-year critical care nurse practitioner fellowship) and these fellowships often include procedural training. Our critical care NPs and PAs can be credentialed to perform intubation, central venous line placement, and arterial line placement in the ICU.
  9. Consider procedure teams. These are particularly useful in large hospitals that have a reliably large number of regularly performed bedside procedures. These are sometimes lead by a physician credentialed in common procedures but are often staffed by advanced practice providers (NPs and PAs). Elective and semi-elective procedures that lend themselves for NP/PA procedure teams include central lines, lumbar puncture, thoracentesis, paracentesis, and bone marrow biopsy.
  10. Do not over-rely on surgeons and anesthesiologists. Some hospitals are large enough to have a designated in-house anesthesiologist (or CRNA) available to perform emergency intubations outside of the operating room. But small and medium-sized hospitals usually have all of their anesthesiologists assigned to operating rooms during the day and may not have an in-house anesthesiologist at night. Anesthesiologists and surgeons need to be in the operating room and usually cannot just pause a surgical procedure to run out to the ICU to place a central line or intubate a patient. Reserve using anesthesiologists for intubating only difficult airways and using surgeons for only difficult venous access situations.
  11. Have a back-up plan. Emergency medicine physicians are credentialed for most bedside procedures. However, ER doctors really need to remain physically in the ER whenever possible. They can be an important back-up at night in situations when the provider covering the ICU or covering code blue calls is unable to successfully intubate a patient or place a central venous catheter. Anesthesiologists often can play this same back-up role for intubations and surgeons can often play the same back-up role for central lines. But they should generally only be called as a last resort when the first line provider is unsuccessful.
  12. Promote a hospital culture of mutual assistance. As a pulmonary/critical care physician, I had hospital privileges for all common bedside procedures as well as deep sedation. As the hospital medical director, I was usually present in the hospital when not seeing outpatients in the clinic building. I frequently had the cardiologists (who were credentialed for moderate sedation but not deep sedation) schedule cardioversions between my hospital meetings and would pop in to push intravenous propofol and fentanyl for deep sedation. I also frequently performed lumbar punctures and endotracheal intubations when there was not a credentialed provider present. Not every medical director is credentialed for bedside procedures or has the time during the day to perform bedside procedures. But there is frequently other experienced physicians present in the hospital at any given time who can assist a hospitalist or other physician who is not experienced in performing a given procedure. The medical director can promote a culture of mutual assistance

It’s a new era

In bygone times, teaching hospitals were run by internal medicine and surgical residents. They were in the hospital 24-hours a day and did any and all bedside procedures by the time they were senior residents. The training process consisted of “see one, do one, teach one”. And the volume of procedures was so great that there were plenty of them for all residents to become proficient.

But things have changed. Antiseptic catheter coatings eliminated the need to place fresh central lines and arterial lines every 3 days. Ultrasonography reduced the need for pulmonary artery balloon catheters. PICC lines eliminated the need for many central lines. Better imaging reduced the need for lumbar punctures, thoracenteses, and paracenteses. In addition, quality initiatives increased the training requirements to demonstrate procedure competency. The ACGME and the ABIM reduced and in come cases eliminated the requirements for procedure proficiency for residency/fellowship completion or board certification.

As a consequence, internal medicine trainees now perform fewer procedures during residency/fellowship and hospitalists are frequently not prepared to perform those procedures when they join the medical staff. Hospitals must develop innovative new strategies so that all patients and get the procedures they need anytime of the day and night. The best solution for one hospital may not be the best solution for another hospital. But it is clear that hospitals can no long rely on the training and credentialing processes that were used 20 years ago.

September 26, 2022

By James Allen, MD

I am a Professor Emeritus of Internal Medicine at the Ohio State University and former Medical Director of Ohio State University East Hospital