Are Hospital Emergency Rooms Actually Part of the Hospital?

When you need to go to an emergency room, the last thing on your mind is likely to be whether the emergency room is part of the hospital.  It is common sense; of course, the emergency room in the local hospital is part of the hospital, right?  Actually, the current trend in medical care is for hospitals to “contract out” emergency room care to an “emergency medicine group” who, in turn, staffs the physicians (and sometimes the nurses) in the emergency room.

This has become a hot-button issue in litigation when things go wrong in the emergency room.  If a lawsuit becomes necessary, you would assume that the hospital is responsible for mistakes that take place in its emergency room.  But this is not necessarily the case, and more and more hospitals are escaping liability for mistakes that occur in their emergency rooms on the theory that they do not control the physicians working in the emergency room.

 In some states, like Virginia, this legal distinction is a virtual bar to holding the hospital responsible for errors that occur in their emergency room.  In other states, like Maryland, you can try to prove that you were unaware that the hospital contracted out the emergency room care.  But if the hospital can show that it alerted you to this legal distinction beforehand, then it might be off the hook.  And how have some hospitals chosen to warn the patient?  By noting it in the fine print among the multitude of pages you sign when you enter the emergency room.  And think about it, why do most people enter an emergency room?  Because they are extremely ill… you think they really have time to read and digest that fine print?  And even if they did, if it is a true emergency, does the patient really have a choice where to go?

So what is the big deal?  You can still sue the emergency medicine group that is providing the contract services, right?  Well, yes.  But if that group (as is often the case) has only limited insurance coverage, you are unlikely to be fully compensated for your injuries.


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