Based on U.S. Federal law known as the 1986 Emergency Treatment and Active Labor Act [EMTALA], qualified medical personnel, such as a physician, must provide appropriate medical screening evaluation of the child to determine if an emergency medical condition exists warranting immediate care to save the child’s life, or prevent physical harm or disability. The screening may include blood tests, x-ray, CAT scan or other tests or consultation by specialists, without regard for the child’s ability to pay for the care. EMTALA includes most hospitals in the United States except for Shriner’s Children’s Hospitals, and manu military hospitals. Under EMTALA, if no emergency medical condition exists, the hospital has no further obligation to treat the child.
When treating a child under the age of 18, in the emergency department, personnel may make efforts to obtain consent for care from a person with “parental responsibility,” such as the child’s mother, father, legal guardian, or local authority responsible for the child. If medical personnel are unable to contact a parental authority, then the medical provider in charge of the child’s care will determine what is in the best interests of the child.
If an emergency condition exists and there is not enough time to consult someone with parental responsibility, immediate treatment may be given. Examples include a child critically injured and bleeding heavily after being hit by a car, or a child in active labor and close to delivering a baby. The child’s condition must be stabilized prior to any medical decision to transfer the child to another medical facility having better capability to meet the child’s unique health needs.
Emergency medical screening and care also extends to infants and children abandoned at the emergency department by parents or others. A hospital Social Worker may be included in the care of a child when necessary.
Laws vary from state to state regarding conditions when children under age 18 may consent to non-emergency care, without notifying parental authority. Examples may include children who are married or serve in the U.S. Military. Ask a medical provider, or attorney, about the laws of your particular state regarding this issue.