Spinal cord injuries unfortunately are among the most serious ones and can leave the patients in need of high level of medical care. Prolonged rehabilitation is almost always a requirement. However, getting to the hospital, especially if they are located a huge distance away, can be a challenge. This is where air ambulance services come into picture. Fixed wing air ambulances are best suited in the situation. They are quick, which means travel time is minimum and the patient does not have to go through hours of discomfort-filled travel. Moreover, the fixed wing air ambulances themselves are sans bumps, making it safe for the patient.
Air Ambulance and Patient Needs
Worsening of the current injury is a possibility during patient transport. The air ambulance must therefore have the right equipment and the right experts onboard to make this journey a smooth one. The care during the transit has a huge bearing on the ultimate outcome post recovery. Risks like pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis are high. The crew must be cognizant of this fact. Many patients who develop spinal complications also suffer from bladder and bowel disorders. It is something that the staff must be ready to handle.
Why Medical Flights are the Best Choice
Most air ambulance companies facilitate seamless coordination between the ground ambulances and the air ambulance itself. The transition becomes flawless and the patient is assured of good care. Moreover, the fixed wing air ambulances these days are nothing less than highly sophisticated intensive care units. This means that any complications that can potentially occur en route can be efficiently handled. The cost of the air ambulance can be a concern for people. However, by doing the right research and proper negotiation keeping the insurance provider in mind, the issue can be solved efficiently. In the end, what matters most is the full recovery of the patient.
Most air ambulance rescues are enabled by helicopters and the sound that they generate can be a huge hindrance for communication. Working around this problem is vital to keep the communication ongoing between crew members and also to maintain the efficacy of it. Active noise cancellation is one such technology that has brought about a paradigm change in the air ambulance industry. It simply does away with unwanted noise and makes the communication clearer. Helmets have now become a playground for newer technologies. However, while employing technology to make communication seamless, the weight of the helmets can be a concern.
Air Ambulance Rescue Helmets
Ergonomics and weight of helmets have become as important as the communication systems that they host. With all the technology, care must be taken to ensure that they do not hinder the rescue efforts.
Most helmets are connected to the helicopter intercom systems so that they can hear what is going on at any given point. Radios also play a major role here as communication with the ground team is also vital. Most helmets have a built-in radio receivers and speakers too but switching between the two can sometimes be a challenge. This is where customization comes into picture.
Customization of Air Ambulance Crew Communication Devices
There are several companies out there that churn out customized communication devices. Air ambulance organizations can get exactly what they want through them. For instance, switching between radio equipment and intercom would be truly a seamless process. However, there are a few drawbacks.
The main con is the price. Customization comes at a premium and the trade off between the utility and the price can be skewed. The other factor is aftermarket service, which might be poor, unavailable or highly expensive. Plus compatibility with changing technology can turn out to be a headache.
Air ambulances must factor in all the elements discussed above to come up with the best possible communication solution.
Imagine a situation where a patient is in a life-threatening situation and a medical flight is an absolute necessity. The treating physician recommends an air ambulance. However, when a call is placed for dispatch, the service provider refuses to comply. The reason behind this is bad weather conditions. The hospital then calls several other service providers until they find one that is willing to take the risk. This is called medical flight shopping. While this might seem to be a logical recourse for the patient, it is not always desirable. The risk taken by the patient and the crew is huge in such circumstances. Why do air ambulance service providers agree to such a call?
The Pressures on the Medical Flight Industry
There are over a thousand medical flight service providers in the United States. This means they have to divide the existing customer base within themselves. Plus, most of these businesses are privately funded so profits matter. Rejecting patients for whatever reason does not serve the profit motive of these investors. Hence, the crew is compelled to take the call of answering to the need. However, this eventually places a huge financial burden on the patient. Let’s understand how.
The Out of Network Issue
In a situation where the need for medical flight service is huge and time is short, the patient does not really have the option of choosing a service provider. Most often, the service that he or she ends up with is one that is not covered by the insurance provider. While the insurance might cover a base rate, medical flight companies do not always comply with such rates. As a result, the patient is later compelled to cough up a steep price that the medical flight company charges in the form of balance bills. Medical flight shopping thus is a high-risk and expensive affair – a practice that must be relooked.
Prince William has spoken out about the psychological toll that the air ambulance industry takes on individuals that power it. Having worked as an air ambulance pilot himself, it has often been witnessed that when he highlights the issues concerning the industry, the world takes notice. He did it again recently this month. He shared how he had to, sometimes, ferry children who were in critical condition and how it ‘took him over the edge’. He called the air ambulance industry professionals to be open about the mental health challenges that they encounter on a regular basis and to seek help.
Seeking Help trough Colleagues
People sailing in the same boat often understand and are empathetic towards each other. Same is the case with air ambulance industry professionals. It becomes easy to open up to fellow colleagues about issues that affect them mentally. Talking things out is known to lighten the woes of the mind and to get a better perspective of life. Family and friends too can be a great source to get those nagging thoughts out of the mind. Awareness must be created in the industry. It must be conveyed that talking it out is healthy.
Mental Issues and Employers
Mentally healthy employees are always more productive. Plus, it is the responsibility of the employer to take care of the employees. This is not limited to physical well being but also the mental well being. The air ambulance industry today is governed heavily when it comes to safety of the crew and the patients when in midair. This ensures physical well being. However, laws must be enacted to protect mental well being of the workforce too. Easy access to mental health professionals is prime among them. It must be noted, in this context, that many players in the air ambulance industry are cognizant of this need and have created an ecosystem to promote mental health.
Surprise billing or balance billing is not just a problem specific to the air ambulance industry. The healthcare landscape itself is riddled with it. We have seen far too often that people who opt for a medical flight service receive huge bills that are not covered by the insurance network.
As a result, they end up liable to pay the surprise bill to the air ambulance service provider. While we often see that the money is waved off or a huge discount is offered, it is still an inconvenience and often a point of friction between the consumers and the medical flight company.
Is the Air Ambulance Industry Doing Enough?
Doubts are often raised whether the air ambulance industry is doing enough to keep the costs in check. While it is undeniable that there are some bad actors, the industry experts reveal that going in-network is not an option. The reason is the unfair reimbursement rates they say.
At the current time, the cost projections by the air ambulance industry and what the insurance companies are willing to reimburse are poles apart. Of course, there are some initiatives like memberships that medical flight companies offer, but not many are able to get the full benefits of such initiatives as consumers do not feel that necessity to pay extra, in addition to their insurance premiums.
What Can the Air Ambulance Industry Do Further?
It all comes down to negotiations. It is imperative that the air ambulance industry has a healthy discussion with the insurance companies to arrive at a fair reimbursement rates. The industry must be flexible enough to ultimately join the insurance networks.
Moreover, there is a necessity to present their points of view to the government so that there is a clear understanding of the roadblocks. The ultimate aim must be to unburden the common man.
Cost saving seems to be the concern of the air ambulance industry in recent times. While there are several resources like the hangar and quality maintenance that cannot be contained, there are certain aspects that technology can help with. Fuel efficiency and route mapping are among those. In fact, the two are closely connected to each other, especially when it comes to long-distance air ambulance evacuation. Let’s dive into the factors that affect the two and how technology can help the air ambulance industry in this regard.
Air Ambulance Industry and Fuel Efficiency
Contingency fuel itself can be a source of fuel wastage for the air ambulance industry. Wondering how? It’s a no brainer – lesser weight translates to lesser fuel. Contingency fuel is usually carried to meet any unforeseen circumstance that can compel medical flight to be on air for a longer period of time.
If there was a mechanism where any adverse conditions can be predicted beforehand, the need for contingency fuel can be negated completely or at least reduced to a huge extent. The approach would help greatly.
Another aspect is flight route. Often, air ambulances are compelled to change their flight path or flight at varying altitudes due to changing weather conditions. Actions like these accelerate the fuel burn pace. If this uncertainty can be taken away, route planning becomes more efficient where the medical flight need not be on air for longer times than necessary. Needless to say, this increases the fuel efficiency and as a consequence, cuts associated costs.
How Technology Helps
Satellite connectivity in real time can help to a huge extent to plan the routes, but this is nothing new to the air ambulance industry but connect analytical algorithms to weather data and you have something new. The combination brings to the table the ability to predict weather and plan routes even better.
The United States is a country that takes pride in its capitalistic foundations and private equity is a big part of it. Making America great are the enterprising individuals who have found new business avenues and turned their fortunes. In this context, one questions whether the same outlook must be adopted towards the air ambulance industry. Today, the industry is mostly run by firms that leverage private equity to keep floating. However, that comes as no surprise. The medical flight industry is one that sees high demand. It is natural that businessmen want to invest in it.
Air Ambulance Industry and Rising Costs
While the country has not seen high inflation, air ambulance industry has witnessed a steep rise in its costs – thanks to the ever-evolving safety measures and cost a good deal. In addition, there is the need to keep the staff well trained to tackle new equipments. On top of all that, maintaining high standards is not enough, accreditations that stand as evidence to the quality is essential, which again is a cost. Factors such as these are pushing the prices of medical flight services quite high today, to the extent that – without insurance coverage – they are almost impossible to afford.
Prevalence of Too Many Players in the Air Ambulance Industry
The air ambulance industry today witnesses several new entrants. The existing ones too are expanding at a tremendous pace. All this could be leading to an oversupply. However, oversupply is a two-edged sword. It increases the cost that ‘idle time’ attracts. In turn, this pushes the cost of each unit (read cost of each flight) higher as each unit now has to cover higher costs. This could be compelling the air ambulance industry to charge its customers high prices, something that the insurance industry has not been willing to foot lately.
The expectation is that the oversupply balances itself out eventually as the unprofitable ventures close down, and ultimately, a perfect market condition prevails.
The air ambulance industry has often cited the Airline Deregulation Act whenever questions have been raised against its billing practices. It is obvious that most people are curious about this act that precludes the states from interfering in the matters of the medical flight industry.
The law was originally passed in the year 1978 with the intent of keeping the prices of commercial flights low and to promote a healthy capitalistic competition. Prior to that, the commercial airline industry was seeing a lot of monopolistic moves and the prices were quite high. The Act was quite successful and the primary reason why we see highly competitive prices in the commercial airline market even today.
How did it Affect Air Ambulance Industry?
The credit goes to the air ambulance industry that has successfully argued they too are in the business of commercial flights and, therefore, the states cannot interfere in the matters of their pricing. However, like all industries, there are bad players in the air ambulance industry too. They have leveraged this act to charge incredibly high amounts to the customers. The issue has now catapulted to the extent that it has caught national attention. Some experts believe that strong lobbying of the industry is even influencing federal decision makers.
The Argument against the Air Ambulance Industry
Many believe that air ambulance industry must not be treated as commercial airlines. Instead, medical flights must be treated as public health utilities. Part of the argument is also that the congress – while formulating the act – would not have imagined that the air ambulance industry would interpret it the way it has been at this point. Also, the main intent was to keep the prices competitive and not soaring as is the case today. The air ambulance industry too, on the other hand, has a valid point. It points fingers at the insurance industry, which is known to deny out-of-network coverage.
The huge air ambulance bills are a matter of concern no doubt for citizens of the United States. We present a few options through which this burden can be contained.
Community Partnership with Air Ambulance Companies
It was recently seen that Gulf Shores residents now have access to free air ambulance services. Thanks to the partnership between the county and a large medical flight service provider, they will not have to pay any balance bills going forward. It is an idea that is worth emulation for the rest of the country.
Individual Memberships for Air Ambulance Services
Almost all big air ambulance companies offer membership plans that insulate their customers from balance bills. However, not many people avail this as it is an addition to their medical insurance cost. More importantly, there are not many medical flight provider groups that come together and offer comprehensive coverage.
What can Air Ambulance Companies Do?
There is a part that air ambulance companies too can play. For instance, REVA which is an international air ambulance company recently has increased its affiliations with private insurance companies. This will, in turn, rid the users of the worry of air ambulance costs. Even other providers now are veering this way, and as the web of coverage increases, the end users will benefit hugely.
Federal Intervention is an Option
The federal government has the authority to regulate the air ambulance industry. However, there is stiff opposition to any such move as it lays a huge financial pressure on the industry. It is the move that most state governments like Wyoming are pushing for, but so far, the move has borne no fruits. It is also unlikely that this route is going to be effective in the future.
Any move that brings insurance providers as well as air ambulance industry together is bound to be a success. Unfortunately, however, this is not happening at the present.
Blockchain has been largely associated with cryptocurrencies but what a sizeable number of people do not know is that it has several applications, especially when it comes to security of data and operations. The air ambulance industry can benefit hugely from this technology. It is taking the world by a storm cutting across sectors today.
Cross border transactions, data security, and international regulatory compliance are just some of the areas that blockchain technology can prove of value. In a business world where digital transformation is making big waves, the air ambulance industry cannot afford to remain isolated today. It must actively look towards adopting this technology.
Blockchain makes Cross-Border Air Ambulance Transactions Seamless
Transactions usually take place through a centralized ledger. In other words, the monitoring of financial transactions is done from one central point. The nature of air ambulance business is contrary to this. It is dispersed and depending on one central point is often a hindrance.
Blockchain transforms this process through a decentralized ledger where an immutable record of every change made in the system is maintained. It is unchangeable and transparent. Every time even a small change is made to the ledger, it is immediately recorded. This gives a clear picture of who is responsible for what.
Data Security Made Easy
The inability to make any changes without recording who did it and not being able to change this ‘log’ later is blockchain technology’s biggest strength. Any sensitive data pertaining to business or patients simply cannot be stolen without being noticed. This feature acts as a deterrent to both internal and external parties. Unscrupulous elements would simply not attempt to steal or modify data for their advantage owing to the risk of being recognized.
Features like these and more make blockchain technology one that must be adopted by the air ambulance industry today.