Brenda Goodman, MA, Andy Miller
November 29, 2018
The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, or EMTALA, guarantees a certain level of medical care to anyone who comes to an emergency department that accepts payments from Medicare or Medicaid.
Some labor and delivery units and psychiatric hospitals are also governed by EMTALA.
Under the law enacted in 1986, emergency departments must:
- Offer patients a timely and appropriate medical screening exam.
- This exam is different from triage, in which a nurse or other provider takes vital signs to decide the order in which to see patients.
- Unlike with triage, a health care professional with a certain level of expertise -- typically a doctor, advanced practice nurse, or physician assistant -- must do the medical screening.
- Medical screening exams are done to find out the cause of a patient’s symptoms. They cannot be delayed or denied in order to ask about a patient’s ability to pay.
- Medical screening exams must make use of all the hospital’s relevant resources, for example, lab tests or CT scans.
Over the last 10 years, the most frequent EMTALA violation by hospitals was the failure to do an adequate medical screening exam.
Failure to offer stabilizing treatment was the fourth most common EMTALA violation over the last 10 years.
- Treatment to lessen the risks of transfer
- Getting consent from the receiving hospital to accept the transfer
- Ensuring the transfer involves qualified personnel and transportation (an ambulance)
Failure to do an appropriate transfer was the second most common way hospitals have violated EMTALA over the last 10 years.
Failure to keep this log was the third most common EMTALA violation over the last 10 years.