Emergency Room Rights


You have rights in an emergency room. It's the law.


You have these protections:

  1. An appropriate medical screening exam to check for an emergency medical condition, and if you have one,
  2. Treatment until your condition is stable, or
  3. An appropriate transfer to another hospital if you need it

The law that gives everyone in the U.S. these protections is the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. Known as "EMTALA," this law helps prevent hospital emergency rooms from refusing to treat patients. The law applies to hospitals that receive Medicare funds, which includes most hospitals in the U.S.

This means that a hospital emergency room must:

Illustration of a female medical professional. She has brown skin and is wearing a  medical coat while walking.

1. Give you an appropriate medical screening exam

A qualified professional must check you for an emergency medical condition

When you check in, the hospital can ask you about health insurance, as long as it doesn’t delay your exam or treatment. The hospital must offer you this screening exam, even if you don’t have insurance.

Illustration of a pregnant woman. She has brown skin and is hugging her middle.

2. Treat you until your condition is stable

If you have an emergency medical condition, the hospital must offer to treat this condition so that it does not materially worsen. An emergency medical condition includes when you are experiencing contractions or are in danger of your medical condition materially worsening.

Illustration of a man walking. He has white hair and brown skin.

3. Transfer you if necessary

If the hospital doesn't have the capability to stabilize your emergency medical condition, it must offer to transfer you to a hospital that is capable of treating your emergency medical condition. 

Before transferring you, the hospital must explain the benefits and risks.

EMTALA exists to help you get the emergency care you need in a hospital emergency room.

Anyone with an emergency medical condition must be offered treatment to stabilize that condition. “Stabilized” means your condition is unlikely to get materially worse.

Learn more about EMTALA

How to file a complaint

Filing an EMTALA complaint helps make the health care system safe for everyone. A State Survey Agency will investigate the complaint. It is possible that the federal government will get involved in the investigation. After the investigation, the federal government will determine whether a hospital has violated EMTALA.

Submit your complaint to the State Survey Agency in the state where the hospital is located.


  • The hospital name
  • The patient’s name
  • What happened, including dates
  • Your name and contact information (unless you file anonymously)

By filing a complaint, you are sharing this information directly with the state government. 

Filing a complaint is not a legal action. You’re simply helping to make sure hospitals follow the law.

Federal laws help protect you from unfair treatment and discrimination

Have you been denied treatment to stabilize your emergency medical condition in a hospital emergency room?

You can’t be denied a medical screening exam or treatment based on:

  • If you have health insurance or not
  • If you can pay for treatment
  • Your race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability, or age
  • If you aren't a U.S. citizen

You can submit an EMTALA complaint to the State Survey Agency in the state where the hospital is located.

Have you experienced discrimination in a non-emergency health care setting?

You can file a civil rights complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services if the discrimination happened in the past 6 months. In addition to EMTALA, other federal laws help protect you from unfair treatment and discrimination.


Page Last Modified:
01/21/2024 10:43 PM