There are several terms used to describe a situation where a medial flight does not arrive even after a call. The reasons behind this could be several but it is important to categorize these using appropriate terminologies so that an organization that owns the medical flights can optimize and also gauge its effectiveness. It makes gathering of meaningful data easy. Let’s explore these terminologies in some detail.
Cancelled Medical Flight Calls
The category ‘cancelled’ should only be used to describe those situations where the medical flight has taken off, but it is asked to return when it is en route to the patient’s location. The reason behind this could be demise of the subject that warranted the air ambulance service in the first place or a change in situation where it is felt that the medical condition is not serious enough to warrant a medical flight.
Stand Down of a Medical Flight
When the risk of flying to a particular location is too high, the mission to serve the patient is usually abandoned. All such instances must be categorized under ‘stand downs’. This directly affects the dispatch rate but it is a call that must be taken keeping the safety of the crew in mind.
The decision to abort a medical flight mission is usually only taken when the weather condition is too harsh to fly. Missions can also be aborted owing to mechanical problems or inability to fly during bad light.
Once all the missed flights are segregated in the above categories, it becomes easy for the medical flight service provider to gauge what is causing the changes in the dispatch rates. Any areas of improvement such as night vision must be dealt with so that superior service and better dispatch rate can be achieved. The categorization also helps medical flight organizations to set targets and better organize themselves.
As we have time and again discussed, the decision to avail a medical flight service, most often, is in the hands of the treating physician and the patient has little say in it. However, it is always good to have the knowledge of what constitutes a medical necessity for availing an air ambulance service.
Criticality of Time and Treatment Facility
In a situation where the injury or health condition is serious enough that immediate medical attention is warranted and an air ambulance can cut down the travel time greatly, such a service becomes a necessity. It also becomes a necessity when the medical facility in which the patient is receiving treatment is not equipped enough to handle the patient’s condition. The patient may be in need of immediate advanced medical care.
Accessibility to Ground Ambulance and Availability of Medical Flight Service
Certain areas, especially rural, might not have the land infrastructure to transport the patient. In such cases, if a medical flight service becomes available right away, it can be a real life saver. For a medical helicopter, all it takes is a helipad, which most hospitals have today.
Does the Local Ground Transport Leave the Local Area with Inadequate Coverage?
This is an important question that needs to be answered. Rural towns, often have just one or two air ambulances for the entire community. Shifting a patient to a medical facility that is quite a distance from the home base can leave the local community without adequate emergency medical access. A medical flight may be opted in a situation like this.
Medical Facility Available in the Transport Vehicle
Ground ambulance may lack in certain critical care equipment that are available in a medical flight service. In a situation like that, even if time is not a factor, the patient might still be transported via a medical flight service.
Far too many people stuck overseas are reaching out to the world for money through crowd funding. Some even might say that crowd funding for rescue is being viewed as ‘insurance’ coverage in case anything goes wrong, especially when the emergency involves air ambulance transport across borders. While the world community must be appreciated for showing concern and extending a helping hand, international travellers too must take precautions to avoid giving rise to such situations in the first place. Here, we touch upon certain details pertaining to travel insurance and air ambulance coverage that people travelling abroad must keep in mind.
Adventure, Insurance and Air Ambulance – the Three Main Factors
Most travel-related injuries occur when adventure activities go wrong. However, adventure, most often, is the motivating factor for international travellers. Even though most of the travellers understand the importance of insurance and go for one, certain nuances are sometimes ignored. For instance, if you are headed for a skiing adventure in the Swiss Alps, you must make certain that the travel insurance covers that sport in particular. Also, one needs to know whether the coverage is for local care or air ambulance evacuation too, and if the evacuation is covered, then to what extent.
Travellers Must Discuss Health Concerns with their Travel Agents
While online research is an excellent place to start, it should not be considered a substitute to the insight that a travel agent can provide. Discuss different insurances, the activity you plan to indulge in, the coverage and air ambulance evacuation. Go for the right balance of travel cost and health care assurance. While measures like crowd funding may rescue you, the hassles of raising money and the worries that come along, can be quite harrowing. The effort taken to research and purchase travel insurance goes a long way to bring you a tension-free adventure.
Air ambulance service, as a business, is not short of challenges, budget being the first concern but not the least of it. A good business plan that lays out the path to profitability can easily attract investors. However, there are other challenges that are seldom looked into by most entrepreneurs. Here, we discuss some of those road blocks in some detail.
Understanding the Legislations Across the World
The air ambulance industry in the US, as most experts opine, is pretty saturated. It is, therefore, recommended that entrepreneurs target the global market. This necessitates looking into legislations that govern the land. While the norms in most developed, capitalistic countries are similar, they can vary a lot when it comes to developing countries and socialistic policies too can pose some government roadblocks. It is wise to employ an array of consultants to overcome this hurdle.
Provision of Round the Clock Air Ambulance Services
Failure to respond to emergencies can leave your organization with negative public perception problem. To ensure that air ambulance services are always available throughout the year, it is necessary to make arrangements to be available throughout all weather conditions. Also, medical staff needs to be on standby at all times, even though this means additional overheads. Most air ambulance companies overcome this problem by transferring this overhead costs to the end consumer. However, the wisest thing to do is introduce memberships for nominal fees. Efforts must be made to remain ‘in coverage’ of insurance networks so that reimbursements are seamless.
Acquiring Air Ambulance Fleet and Keeping the Staff Well Trained
Air ambulance industry demands seasoned, qualified professionals and it’s hard to find people who fit this criterion. Plus, there is the issue of ongoing training to the staff. Accredited training organizations must be looped in to meet this challenge. Lack of ongoing training can impact the quality of services immensely.
Search and rescue are an integral part of operations performed by air ambulance services around the world, especially when the terrain is tough to handle by ground rescue forces alone. All this could change with drones taking up the search part of the entire operation. This will be made possible by the drones designed by the researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, popularly referred to as MIT. Wireless communication and computation technology will form the basis of these drones. Although these drones are still in the concept stage, if implemented, they could supplement the task of air ambulance services effectively.
The Concept to Support Air Ambulance Services to be Presented Soon
The conference titled ‘International Symposium on Experimental Robotics’ will be the venue where the concept will be presented. The drones would be equipped with laser range finders and will be able to draw up a 3-dimensional map of tough terrain that will help air ambulance services. Among the key researchers of this concept is Yulun Tian who is a graduate student at MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
The Future of the Drone Research
Although not in the scope of the current presentation, eventually, the researchers hope that the drones will be able to tag the person in need of help in tough terrains. This will be made possible by object detection and matching it with missing persons.
The drone prototypes have already been tested through several simulations. In fact, it has been tested once in a dense forest area successfully. In this trial, two drones were able to map a radius of 20 square meters in just 5 minutes. If this concept sees the light of the day, the air ambulance services around the world will certainly become more efficient and will bring down the cost of search and rescue. For now, we will simply have to wait and watch.
The Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems and the European Aero-Medical Institute are perhaps the two most well-known organizations that offer accreditation to air ambulance service providers. While the former is primarily for the United States, the latter caters to the European continent. There are several air ambulance companies that certify their quality services through these accreditations. Then, there are those companies that are equally quality oriented but are not accredited. These medical flight companies are usually smaller in size and cannot afford accreditations. This raises the question: are accreditations really needed or is it just another additional cost?
The Benefits of Air Ambulance Service Accreditations are Several
For one, insurance companies are more willing to take an air ambulance service provider in their network coverage when they are accredited by a well known organization. It is an assurance of high quality standards and safety. Many private players who tie up with air ambulance companies too prefer such certifications before tying up for their services. For medical flight service providers, therefore, it makes sense to spend money on such accreditations. Even hospitals and customers veer towards those organizations that have recognized accreditations.
The Constantly Evolving World of Air Ambulance Accreditations
The rules that govern the air ambulance industry constantly evolve. Bodies like Federal Aviation Administration of the United States up the standards that govern air ambulance companies constantly. When this happens, the organizations that offer accreditation automatically are forced to change their standards. For air ambulance service providers, this means upgrading their certifications on a regular basis to stay current. Moreover, these accreditations must follow not just the norms of their own countries since air ambulance services are increasingly going global. An accreditation organization that only caters to a single country risks being ignored as there is a chance of the service providers preferring other more global options.
Being a physician in fixed-wing medical flights is no small task. Being responsible for a patient in an intensive care unit setting, hundreds of feet above the ground while he battles for life can be quite daunting. What compound the gravity of the situation are the limited resources at the disposal of physicians manning the medical flights. It’s only the world- class training and a cool, professional head on the shoulders that comes to aid in situations like this, day in and day out. Here, we describe some of the training requirements that are typically needed.
Initial Training for Medical Flights
Well, the training starts even before one applies for the job. The training is a little different from the one that you receive in hospitals. You need to be adept in working with limited resources. Also, it is important to understand that problems that one can face up in high altitudes. Gas pockets within the body and limited oxygen are just some of those. Training is optional in some regions but in others, they are absolutely mandatory. The documentation of such training might needed to be vetted by organizations like National Accreditation Alliance for Medical Transport Applications. The training, however, can be obtained through organizations like European Aero-Medical Institute or Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems.
Keeping the Skills Current for Medical Flights is Vital
Some skills are more important than others, like the ability to intubate a patient quickly. Yearly ALS refresher courses are expected to be in place by most medical flight companies. Since, hospitals often see critical patients, experience handling them in emergency settings is considered an added advantage by most air ambulance companies.
Ongoing Training for Full-Time Professionals on Medical Flights
Most of the reputed air ambulance companies offer their medical staff ongoing training. While some of this training is conducted in-house, others may be outsourced to external agencies that are accredited. In all, these efforts and checks are put in place for the safety of both the medical flight professionals and the patients under their care.
When faced with an emergency situation concerning the life of a loved one, cost is the last thing that you want to worry about. However, it is always wise to have an idea of the costs involved in emergency situations and medical flight services are one of those. With the cost having doubled over the past decade, you must know what to expect if you’re opting for a medical flight. While most of the costs will be covered by your health insurance, you would still want to keep the costs low as you might be forced to pay the unapproved balance amount as it so often is seen happening.
The Cost of Ground Transportation
One cannot completely discount the fact that a ground ambulance may be required to transport the patient. It becomes an absolute necessity when it’s a fixed-wing medical flight, which can only take off from an airport. Even choppers can, at times, not reach the patients owing to the terrain and ground ambulance services may be needed.
The Destination of the Medical Flight
This is an obvious factor. The longer the medical flight, greater the cost. The nearest appropriate treating facility might be quite far and sometimes across borders – all this ultimately translates into higher cost.
Medical Flight Landing Fees
The landing fees depend on the duration that a medical flight uses the landing facility. This becomes a part of the final bill.
Type of Medical Flight and Number of Medical Staff
Long flights typically demand fixed-wing air ambulances. These can be more expensive than choppers. They are generally better equipped and considered more comfortable. The number of medical staff is also a criterion. Certain medical conditions demand that professionals in more than one field of medicine be present in the air ambulance and this can push the costs up.
While there may be other cost factors too, the ones discussed above are the major ones.
It might seem that the aviation and air ambulance companies have little in common. While one deals in the mechanics of aviation machines, the other primarily deals with biology and chemistry of the human body. However, when one looks closely, it is easy to spot several similarities between the two. It is these similarities that the air ambulance companies must be aware of and must work on, to improve the safety of medical flights. The risks involved in both industries are very similar to each other. This is why REVA, which is an international fixed-wing air ambulance company, has published a white paper on ‘Just Culture’
What is ‘Just Culture’ and How Does it Apply to Air Ambulance Companies?
This is a highly relevant question. Although one rarely gets to hear about fatal crashes and safety flaws concerning air ambulance companies, such incidents are not unheard of. Apart from this, there are obviously going to be some near misses. The logic behind the ‘Just Culture’ is to treat mistakes as learning opportunities to avoid them completely in the future. REVA released a white paper on the topic recently.
According to Emma Roberts who is the company’s Safety Director, the white paper meant for air ambulance companies, lays down the steps involved in implementation of just culture and explains how this culture increases the degree of safety.
‘Just Culture’ Fosters Transparency in the Way Air Ambulance Companies Function
‘Just Culture’ makes reporting easier for staff who constantly put their lives on the line to protect and serve the needy patients. The culture ensures that these front-line warriors are not punished for the mishaps but are rather encouraged to report them so that apt solutions can be found. The result is improved safety of medical flights and better compliance with medical as well as aviation norms.
The study of aviation physiology is quite extensive. On diving deep into this subject, it becomes apparent that air blocks are major factors that bring about physiological changes in relation to altitude. To say that principles of aviation physiology hold good for medical flights too is stating the obvious. In this guide, we highlight some of the very common air blocks. These must be considered every time a person opts for a flight, pressurize or unpressurized.
Ear Blocks on Medical Flights
The symptoms primarily start as a feeling of fullness; however, the symptom may take a slightly painful turn in higher altitudes and ultimately lead to vertigo. The solutions though are pretty simple: yawning, swallowing and Valsalva are quite effective.
Sinus Blocks on Medical Flights
There can be two types of sinus blocks. The first type is maxillary sinus block. This is characterized by sharp pain beneath the cheekbones as well as upper dentition. The second type is frontal and is characterized by severe pain under the eyebrow as well as eye corners. The best remedy for this is Valsalva maneuver.
Gastrointestinal Tract Blocks on Medical Flights
Our digestive system can hold a lot of trapped gas. When a person travels on a high-altitude medical flight, this collection of gas can lead to physiological changes in the gastrointestinal tract causing discomfort and sometimes, slight pain. Belching and flatus can provide instant relief.
Tooth Blocks on Medical Flights
This is not the most common air block on medical flights; however, these can be quite painful and irritating. Sometimes, the natural gaps within teeth and gaps that occur due to dental procedures can retain air and act like bubbles. These air blocks can cause pain at high altitude. There is no immediate remedy for this condition. It is advised that the patient visit a dentist upon landing.
It must be noted that any discomfort that does not go away even after the above-suggested techniques must be dealt with all seriousness. In extreme cases, descent or landing may be warranted.