March 22, 2019
Where Will an Ambulance Take You?
Ask the Experts

Where Will an Ambulance Take You?

by Peter Jaret  

Q: Is it true that an ambulance has to take you to the nearest emergency room? Or can you ask to be taken to a specific hospital even if it's not the closest?

A: Typically, arriving paramedics will assess your condition and take you to the nearest and best-equipped emergency department (ED) for your emergency and health status, although protocol may vary from town to town. You have the right to ask to be transported to a specific ED. If your condition isn’t life-threatening and doesn’t require specialized care, paramedics may agree to take you there.

But if they recommend a particular ED and you insist on going elsewhere, you may be asked to sign a waiver that releases them from responsibility. Your insurance company may also take issue with your request if you go to an out-of-network hospital. For this reason, it's a good idea to find out which local hospitals are covered by your insurance and whether your doctor is affiliated with any. If you’re using Medicare, you’ll likely have to pay out-of-pocket costs for your transportation if you request a diversion from the closest hospital deemed equipped to treat you.

This article first appeared in the June 2018 issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.

Also see ICE: In Case of Emergency.