What is EMTALA and How Does It Affect Healthcare Facilities?
EMTALA is an acronym that stands for Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act a federally mandate that requires to medically screen every patient that comes to the emergency room. The provision is listed under a section of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986. The law prohibits emergency room personnel from discriminating against patients who don’t have health insurance or cannot pay for services. The mandate was created specifically for hospitals that participate in Medicare. Hospitals are fined up to $104,826 for violating patient protocols.
Why is EMTALA important?
EMTALA ensures that patients receive the proper care when entering a medical facility for service. The mandate prevents hospitals from turning patients away and sending unwanted patients elsewhere without proper treatment. Hospitals cannot discharge patients to another facility until the patient is in stable condition.
Who gets fined under EMTALA?
The facility and attending physicians can be fined for ignoring EMTALA guidelines. Patients can also sue the hospital for personal injuries in civil court. Likewise, facilities that receive untreated patients from another hospital can sue that hospital for damages. Hospitals and physicians that are fined for EMTALA violations are also at risk of losing Medicare provider agreements. Facilities and personnel can receive multiple violations for the same or different patients.
What should facilities do?
Facilities should train staffers to properly handle emergency room patients. This training also extends to the intake personnel that handles patient information. Asking for patient information is a standard emergency room practice. When EMTALA guidelines are in place, emergency personnel know what to ask of patients and how to register patients without insurance coverage. These patients cannot be turned away. Emergency room staff need to be well aware of the repercussions of refusing treatment to uninsured patients. Physicians should also know the expectations for treating patients. Physicians should be trained to provide the right amount of care to sick patients before discharge.
Understanding the law
The line between medicine and the law can become murky. Therefore, physicians should consult legal professionals to learn more about EMTALA and other regulations surrounding emergency care. Having the proper training in place for all ED personnel goes a long way in avoiding penalties and violations.