EMT Exam: The Basic Legal Tenets of Medical Practice

By Arthur Hsieh

No matter where you engage your patient, there is a clear set of medical legal guidelines you should practice religiously and know for the EMT exam. Ethics and “doing the right thing” apply as well, but it’s the law that will either protect you or, if you do the wrong thing, provide patients the ability to be compensated for their losses.

The basics of understanding your legal role as an EMT are grounded in the following three legal terms:

  • Scope of practice: Your state laws dictate what medical procedures you can perform, as well as what you cannot do. For example, you can ventilate a patient with a bag-valve mask and oxygen, but you can’t ventilate a patient with an endotracheal tube.

  • Standard of care: The way that you perform a particular procedure or technique is the way most other EMTs would do so under similar circumstances. The standards of care that apply range from being very regional (for example, system protocols that provide guidance while you are at work) to nationwide (CPR standards, for example).

  • Duty to act: You are required to perform your scope of practice to the level of the standard of care. This includes nonclinical aspects of the job, such as keeping a vehicle stocked, responding to an emergency call, transferring the patient to receiving staff at a hospital, or allowing a patient to refuse medical care.