In the United States, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) effectively requires Level I trauma centers to accept hand trauma transfers for higher level of care if capacity exists. However, patient transfer for non-medical reasons, such as ability to pay, is still perceived as a common practice. We hypothesized that EMTALA would cause selective transfer of hand patients who were underinsured or uninsured, thus, effectively burdening a Level I trauma center. A dedicated transfer center documented the demographics and outcomes of all calls for hand trauma transfers from December 2003 to September 2005. This data registry was reviewed for age, gender, race, insurance status, and length of hospital stay. This data was compared with direct admissions to the emergency room for hand emergencies during that same time period. During the 2-year time period, a total of 151 calls for EMTALA transfer were received for hand emergencies. Our institution accepted 92 of these patients for transfer. Reasons for not accepting transfer included lack of bed availability and unavailability of the on-call surgeon due to other emergency operative cases. Compared with hand emergency patients brought directly to our emergency department during the same time period, transferred patients were younger and had a shorter length of stay. Interestingly, they were very similar in terms of sex, race, and insurance status. These data suggest that the primary motivations for EMTALA hand trauma transfers are truly complexity of patient care and specialist availability. Given the often urgent nature of hand trauma surgery and the limited resources available, expansion and development of hand and microsurgery regional centers will be vital to adequately meet demand without overburdening existing centers.
View details for DOI 10.1007/s11552-009-9214-7
View details for PubMedID 19603237