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"Failure to Screen" Case Will Proceed Against Hospital

When a medical emergency occurs we all hope that quick, effective medical treatment will await us at the nearest hospital.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case when medical malpractice in the form of inadequate care or delay in treatment occurs.  The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) is a federal law designed to ensure public access to emergency medical services regardless of the patient's ability to pay.  Under the EMTALA hospitals are required to provide stabilizing treatment for patients with emergency medical conditions.  The law requires the hospital to provide appropriate (or uniform) medical screening to all patients, who arrive for emergency medical treatment, based on his/her symptoms.

Recently, a PA federal judge permitted a case involving a claim under EMTALA to move forward towards trial.  The case, Blake v. Main Line Hospitals, was brought by the estate of a woman (Arlene Blake) who died in the emergency room in 2011.  The woman's estate claims that the hospital failed to properly screen her in accordance with the EMTALA when she arrived at the hospital via EMS complaining of chest pain.  Unfortunately, approximately 4 hours after arriving at the hospital the woman died.  In evidence presented at the summary judgment stage it appeared that Ms. Blake was not evaluated by the emergency room doctor for over two hours after her arrival.

The hospital filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in an effort to have the case dismissed against it.  The hospital, through its attorneys, argued that Ms. Blake was treated in accordance within the normal and customary procedure of the emergency room department.  The judge denied the hospital's motion to dismiss the case, however, because it failed to offer any evidence of what its standard screening or assessment procedure was.  Rather than provide evidence of the hospital's standards in its motion, the hospital relied heavily on the treating emergency doctor's medical judgment.  The judge noted that a claim under the EMTALA requires evidence of the standard screening procedure of the treating hospital and whether the actions of the hospital met those standards--not the judgment or opinions of the treating doctor. 

The case against the hospital will now move forward and it will be determined at trial if the hospital provided Ms. Blake "appropriate medical screening" as was required under the EMTALA.

Source:  "Federal Judge OKs 'Failure to Screen' Claim," by Zack Needles, The Legal Intelligencer, April 22, 2014

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