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Arizona lawmaker introduces bill to prevent EMTs from diagnosing patients

State Rep. Amish Shah, who has a medical degree, has introduced a bill that would prohibit paramedics from convincing patients to not go to the emergency room.

PHOENIX — When you call 911 for a health emergency, there’s a chance you’ll be rushed by ambulance to the hospital.

But what if the paramedics who respond convince you not to go?

A state lawmaker said he believes it’s happening and wants a new law to stop the practice.

“You can’t counsel people out (from going to the ER). You can’t not explain the risks and consequences,” said Dr. Amish Shah, a Democrat who represents District 24 in the Arizona House of Representatives.

Shah said his research shows the Phoenix Fire Department has an unusually high percentage of “non-transports” compared to neighboring agencies. He believes the department should do more to ensure firefighters aren’t counseling patients against going to the ER.

“We have reviewed a lot of different cases that have come through, not only Phoenix. What we’ve seen in these cases is a pattern of counseling people out. And that doesn’t fit in best practice,” Shah said.

Arizona State University professor Dawn Gilpin said she spent eight hours vomiting with stomach pain when she finally called 911. She told 12 News the responding EMTs from the Phoenix Fire Department told her she didn’t need to go to the ER.

Gilpin eventually went to the ER where she said doctors discovered she had a bowel obstruction that was deadly.

"Later I was told that I had made it with about an hour to spare," she said. "If I had followed the advice of the EMTs I would have died on my bathroom floor and nobody would have known anything. They told me that it was just food poisoning and I should just wait it out."

A spokesperson for the Phoenix Fire Department said firefighters and emergency medical technicians are following protocol.

“Every call we go on we anticipate transporting someone,” said Cpt. Rob McDade of the Phoenix Fire Public Affairs Division. “But we understand individuals’ rights to decline or refuse treatment or transport to the hospital and the law would not permit us to transport them against their will.”

Shah’s proposal, House Bill 2431, has other requirements that critics say would create too much costly red tape for fire departments.

A preliminary version of the bill was heard at the Arizona House Health and Human Services Committee on Monday.

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