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How Should Hospitals Handle Emergencies?

Get the Facts about EMTALA


What is EMTALA?

In 1986, Congress enacted EMTALA or the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act was established to prevent hospitals from refusing treatment to patients in an emergency situations regardless of their ability to pay.

What defines an Emergency Medical Condition?.

According to EMTALA, an emergency medical condition is defined as "a condition manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that the absence of immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected to result in placing the individual's health [or the health of an unborn child] in serious jeopardy, serious impairment to bodily functions, or serious dysfunction of bodily organs."

Examples include:
  • Active Labor
  • Severe Pain
  • Cardiac Arrest
  • Appendicitis
  • Food Poisoning
  • Bleeding
What are the EMTALA requirements of hospitals?

There are three things that are required by EMTALA.

  1. Hospitals are required to provide a medical screening examination to anyone that presents themselves for emergency services.
  2. If the patient has been diagnosed with an emergency medical condition, the hospital must provide treatment until the condition has been stabilized. If the hospital doesn't have the capability, the patient can be transferred to another facility.
  3. Hospitals that offer specialized services are required to accept transfers from other facilities to treat the emergency medical condition.
What are the penalties of violating EMTALA?

Penalties of EMTALA include:

  • Hospital fines of up to $50,000 per violation
  • Physician fines of up to $50,000 per violation
  • Termination of the Medicare payments
  • Civil Suit
How to prevent EMTALA violations?

Preventing EMTALA violations is relatively simple.

  1. Defer discussing patient financial information until after all necessary medical screenings have taken place.
  2. Never include financial information in the charts that are handled by the clinical staff that directly care for the patient.


American College of Emergency Physicians. Fact Sheet.EMTALA.www.acep.org/content.aspx?id=25936

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