Health Care:

Patient Transfers From Emergency Rooms to D.C. General Hospital

HRD-87-31: Published: Apr 30, 1987. Publicly Released: Jun 1, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO discussed the transfer of patients from Washington metropolitan area hospital emergency rooms to District of Columbia (D.C.) General Hospital to determine: (1) what the transfer policies and procedures are; (2) whether D.C. hospitals are familiar with the policies and procedures; and (3) whether D.C. hospitals are violating the policies and procedures.

GAO found that: (1) D.C. General's transfer policy is an informal agreement that allows other D.C. area hospitals to transfer patients that cannot pay for their care, as long as the patients are stable and have appropriate medical care records; (2) D.C. area hospitals were familiar with the transfer policies and generally followed them; (3) violations were infrequent and generally did not jeopardize patients' lives; (4) of the 30 cases reviewed, there were 12 minor transfer violations and one potentially life-threatening transfer; (5) in fiscal year 1985, transferees incurred charges totalling $3.5 million, an average of $4,053 per transfer; (6) a recent federal law prohibits any hospital receiving Medicare funds from transfering any emergency room patients if an emergency medical condition exists; and (7) violation of this law could result in a hospital's suspension or termination from the Medicare program.

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