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Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) Laws

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The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) is a federal law that regulates how hospitals must treat patients with an emergency medical condition or who are in active labor (i.e., about to give birth). EMTALA only applies to hospitals that accept Medicare and Medicaid patients, and covers patients regardless of whether they have health insurance

What Does EMTALA Require?

If a patient comes to a hospital's emergency room, the hospital must:

  • Screen the patient to see if they have an emergency medical condition
    • If so, the hospital must either treat the patient or transfer the patient once he has been stabilized enough to make the move

If a pregnant woman comes to a hospital's emergency room, the hospital must:

  • Screen the patient to see if she is in active labor
    • If so, the hospital must either provide treatment until the child is delivered or transfer the woman if it is safe to do so

What Do These Terms Mean under EMTALA?

While the law defines these terms, their meaning largely depends on the medical judgment of the doctor who is treating the patient. Below is a general interpretation of some common EMTLA terms:

  • "Emergency condition" - a condition that, if not treated immediately, could result in putting the person's health in serious danger
  • "Active labor" - refers to a pregnant woman who is having close contractions
  • "Stable" for patients in active labor - the infant and placenta have been delivered
  • "Stable" for patients with an emergency condition - the patient's condition probably will not get worse during transfer

When Can a Patient Be Transferred?

A patient whose condition has been stabilized can be transferred, if the following requirements are met: 

  • The treating doctor decides that the benefits of transfer outweigh the risks
  • The treating doctor explains their decision in writing
  • Another hospital agrees to accept the patient
  • The patient's medical records are also transferred
  • The transfer is done with the appropriate medical equipment and personnel

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you believe you have been denied medical treatment that is required under EMTALA, you should consider talking to a personal injury attorney. A personal injury lawyer can examine your case to determine if you were denied proper care, explain your legal options, and help you file a lawsuit if necessary.

Photo of page author Matthew Izzi

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 07-28-2014 12:27 PM PDT

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