Deficits in EMTALA knowledge among pediatric physicians

William M. McDonnell, Genie E. Roosevelt, Joan P. Bothner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: All US hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid are regulated by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). The law was enacted to prevent hospitals from turning away patients with emergency medical conditions. The law imposes specific obligations on hospitals and their physicians, and provides severe penalties for violations. The objective of this study was to evaluate hospital-based pediatric physicians' knowledge of these obligations and potential liabilities. METHODS: A questionnaire was submitted to the active medical staff and pediatric subspecialty residents at a tertiary care pediatric hospital. The questionnaire collected demographic information and posed 12 questions, based on well-established EMTALA principles, which addressed specific EMTALA obligations and liabilities. RESULTS: The questionnaire was returned by 123 of 332 (37%) potential participants. Twenty-four percent (n = 30) had never heard of EMTALA, 24% (n = 30) had only "heard of" the law, and 51% (n = 63) considered themselves "generally familiar" with EMTALA. No respondent correctly answered all 12 questions, and 13% (n = 16) answered all 12 questions incorrectly. The median score was 42%, with a range of 0% to 83% correct. Only 20% (n = 25) reported that they had ever received any EMTALA education. Prior EMTALA education was associated with a higher score (P = 0.001). Eighty percent (n = 98) expressed interest in attending a formal EMTALA education program. CONCLUSIONS: Physicians at this pediatric hospital were strikingly unaware of their EMTALA obligations and potential liabilities. A specific educational program regarding EMTALA should be provided to hospital-based pediatric physicians to improve compliance with the law and reduce potential liabilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)555-561
Number of pages7
JournalPediatric Emergency Care
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Access to care
  • Legal issues
  • Medical education
  • Risk management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Emergency Medicine


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