Catawba County News

Who Can Refuse EMS Care?

Who Can Refuse EMS Care?

Published: April 20, 2022

When an EMS crew takes care of a patient, the patient doesn’t necessarily have to go to the hospital.  Sometimes EMS can take care of the problem and sometimes a patient would rather go to the primary physician or an urgent care.  There are times a patient doesn’t want any care at all.  That brings on a lot of questions and, occasionally, controversy.

Who can refuse treatment and/or transport?

 If patients are over 18 years old and can answer who they are, where they are, what day it is, and what is going on, they can refuse treatment and transport.  Even if patients need to go to the hospital, they are legally able to refuse if they meet all that criteria.  When a patient needs to go to the hospital, we will do our best to talk the patient in to going.  If they continue to refuse, we will advise them of possible consequences including possible death, if applicable.  The patients then have to sign that they understand the consequences and take responsibility for them.  If patients are alert and oriented, we cannot make them go with us.  People have the right to make their own decisions, and we try to respect that.

“I’m power of attorney so they have to go!”

Not necessarily.  Power of attorney does not kick in until patients can’t answer questions anymore.  Again, if we take an adult to the hospital against his/her will, that’s not legal, and we can’t do that.  People can make their own decisions as long as they are alert and oriented to person, place, time, and event.

“I’m their guardian so they have to go!”

Maybe, but we are going to need to see the guardianship papers.  Guardianship is granted through the court system.  We are happy to honor that, but we do need to see the papers to ensure we are acting legally.


There are times when we encounter patients that who can’t answer who they are, where they are, or what’s going on.  In that case, we function under implied consent, meaning that a reasonable person in that condition would consent to treatment and/or transport.

At the end of the call, our goal is to work with the patient and the family to help the patient come to the best decision.