What is the first thing you’d do if a relative seems to be having a medical emergency? If you’re like a lot of people in the U.S., you would probably pick up the nearest phone, dial 911, and wait on the paramedics to get there with an ambulance.
Now, imagine for a moment that the emergency medical service team gets there, evaluates your relative and then, for whatever reason, simply refuse to transport him or her to the hospital. While not every ambulance company permits an EMS-initiated refusal of transport, it does happen, and the consequences can be devastating.
At best, the ambulance may have to be called back a second time when your loved one’s symptoms worsen or reappear. At worst, your loved one may die unnecessarily from the lack of appropriate, timely medical care.
Multiple studies over the years have shown that emergency medical techs can’t really make an adequate evaluation about whether someone “needs” to be transported to the hospital for emergency care. One study found that out of 85 patients judged by paramedics not to need emergency department care, 27 required treatment, 15 were admitted and 5 were admitted to an intensive care unit.
Paramedics have training that’s vastly inferior to that of a doctor or nurse and they lack field access to critical information, like blood work and radiography results, that can help determine if someone is critically ill. Despite that, patients can still find themselves facing a stubborn refusal to obtain transport.
If your loved one had a temporary spell with disorientation, slurred speech, pain, vomiting or any other symptoms that have passed by the time the paramedics get there, they may assume that there’s something only mildly wrong and that the patient either doesn’t have alternative transportation or wants the “added benefit” of arriving by ambulance — being able to skip a potentially crowded waiting room and get faster treatment.
Assumptions like these can end up being fatal. Paramedics might assume that a child with a deadly bacterial infection in need of IV antibiotics just has a bad cold. An elderly parent who felt dizzy earlier could go into cardiac arrest later. Both situations, as well as many others, could be prevented with urgent medical care.
For more information on what to do if you believe that a loved one’s death could have been prevented, please visit our page on wrongful death claims.