When you call emergency medical services many assume that they will be taken to the nearest hospital in the fastest time, however this is not always the case. You do have certain rights on where you go for treatment, but there are limitations as we explain here.
There are a number of reasons to request which medical center you wish to be taken for care. Proximity to your home would be a prime one, but your insurance may have limitations on where it is accepted. There is a system in place that often dictates where patients are taken after during an emergency call. Sometimes this decision is made the moment the 911 call is answered. You may be handled by a coordinator tasked with distributing patients evenly between hospitals in the area. You may end up far from your local hospital depending on the circumstances. 911 systems operate differently in different areas. If there is a huge overload at local hospitals you may even be taken out of state. This is likely to happen if there has been a wider scale emergency such as multiple traffic accidents.
Emergency medical services vary state to state with some offering a choice while others will only notify you once underway. Paramedics have a certain amount of leverage especially if there are specific medical conditions requiring a specialized facility. More importantly, you do have the right to specify where you are taken and paramedics will usually to their best to accommodate you. Some ambulances are assigned specific ‘zones’ and are not allowed to transport patients outside of those defined territories. There are many categories of facility specialization which can also determine where you should be treated so it is crucial to be aware of them.
Trauma centers are the most common of all specialty hospital types. They have four levels (I-IV) that refer to the types of available resources at each one, and level I centers can handle most cases including the severe ones. For serious cases patients will be taken to the closest available level I trauma center regardless of their own choices (which they may not be in condition to make).
There are also specialist burn and cardiac care centers, referred to as ‘STEMI’ (S-T elevated myocardial infarction) centers. This is the most common form of heart attack. Stroke centers are the brain equivalent of the heart centers and there are over 1,100 of them across the US. Children’s hospitals also offer specialized care for the very young and many are equipped with pediatric trauma centers.
Concern can arise about seeing a doctor outside of your insurance network due to the additional costs you must pay. EMS responders are not legally permitted to enquire about your insurance status so you can request a facility that covers you.