Is It Really an Emergency?

From Hospitals &Health Networks:

When a patient with a sore throat, earache or other minor ailment heads to the emergency department for a cure, there are a raft of consequences every hospital is familiar with: longer waits for patients with more serious conditions, higher costs for the patient and the hospital, and the challenge of treating a patient in a less-than-ideal care setting. While hospitals are required by EMTALA to take care of all comers, leaders at Presbyterian Healthcare Services in New Mexico have been testing an innovative strategy for dealing with non-emergencies in the ED — they screen patients for more serious problems before sending them on their way to a primary care appointment arranged by the hospital.

The first question that comes to mind, of course, is how a program that sends patients out of the ED complies with EMTALA, but hospital leaders say the ED fulfills the screening requirements required by federal law before deciding whether a patient should be directed to primary care.

“We asked all of those questions right off the bat,” Jim Hinton, president and CEO of Presbyterian Healthcare Services, says. “We’re more than satisfied our program meets the letter and spirit of EMTALA.”

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