EMTALA screening for behavioral health patients


Doctors pushing guerney

With the increase in mental and behavioral health patients presenting to emergency departments, hospitals often struggle with how to adequately and efficiently serve this patient population while complying with the requirements of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). One option is to create specialized behavioral health emergency treatment locations that exist separately from traditional emergency departments.

When establishing these dedicated departments, facilities need to remember that under the EMTALA regulations at 42 C.F.R. 489.24, all “dedicated emergency departments,” which includes behavioral health emergency treatment locations, must be able to perform an appropriate medical screening examination in order to identify whether a patient has an emergency medical condition. Such an emergency medical condition could include an emergency psychiatric condition. 

Facilities that operate both behavioral health/psychiatric and traditional medical emergency departments need to thoroughly examine their policies and procedures to ensure that patients presenting to either location can be assessed and screened by the appropriate personnel and then treated in the location most appropriate to any emergency medical or psychiatric conditions identified. No matter how good the communication to the public is of the different focuses of emergency locations, the two departments must coordinate closely to ensure that patients are properly treated.

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