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, which almost all hospitals in the United States do, 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 he has an emergency medical condition; and
  • 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 woman to see if she is in active labor; and
  • 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?

The law defines these terms, but the meaning largely depends on the doctor’s medical judgment.

  • 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 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 also met:

  • The treating doctor decides that the benefits of transfer outweigh the risks;
  • The treating doctor explains his decision in writing;
  • Another hospital agrees to accept the patient;
  • The patient’s medical records are also transferred; and
  • 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 talk to a personal injury attorney. An experienced personal injury attorney can examine your case to determine if you were denied proper care, and bring a lawsuit if necessary.