Imagine heading a business where customers only pay you 30% of the time in full and the remaining 70% only pay you 50% of the cost. How would your business survive? This is precisely the situation of most air ambulance companies in the United States of America say industry experts. What adds insult to the injury is the fact that there is a outcry about the charges both in national media as well as people, not to mention the politicians who are trying to pin all the blame on air ambulance companies. Most players in the industry say that air ambulance business is getting harder by the day to run.
Air Ambulance Companies Asked to Do More
Rural hospitals in the US are closing down at a rapid rate. More and more rural patients are veering towards the services extended by air ambulance companies. However, the fact remains that air ambulance services are expensive and the costs are not being reimbursed by health insurance providers citing several reasons. While the most common is the ‘lack of medical necessity’ others simply have a small ceiling of reimbursements that have not been revised for a very long time.
Most of the Air Ambulance Costs are Fixed
Costs of running a medical base is, on an average, about USD 3 million a year. This amount accounts for about 85% of the costs and are fixed. These include maintenance of the aircraft, hangar, support staff, crew and the like. Then there are write-downs that are either forced upon the air ambulance companies or the ones that they undertake themselves on humanitarian grounds. All this adds up to a huge amount. Plus, there are always the running costs such as fuel which is also quite expensive. Industry experts feel that the demand for the services provided by air ambulance companies is going to increase considering that the population is aging, and that something needs to be done on a war footing to make the reimbursements commiserate with the services provided.
We have been citing the reluctance of insurance companies to revise their payment charts, in keeping with the time and also several air ambulance companies that simply refuse to budge down when it comes to the pricing.
This time around, Missouri Insurance Department has come up with a report that reveals, on an average, people of Missouri are paying about USD 20,000 for an air ambulance services. Of course, this is a whopping price for a common person, not just in the state but anywhere in the world. The report further said that close to USD 26 million was billed by air ambulance companies in the year 2017. Of this, 12.4 million is what people had to bear, taking into consideration deductibles and co-pays.
Does the Report Vilify Air Ambulance Companies?
This was a question that air ambulance industry advocates would raise without a doubt and not for any frivolous reasons. Balance Billing, which forces patients to pay the amount when insurance companies refuse to clear the air ambulance bills, had no mention in the report. The reason stated for this was ‘insufficient data’. One could even say that the lack of this data, sort of makes the report a little lopsided.
High Fixed Cost was Cited by Air Ambulance Companies
One aspect that should be appreciated about the air ambulance companies is that they have not shied away from saying the amounts charged to the patients are pretty steep. They have also expressed their helplessness in containing this, as the fixed costs of maintaining a medical flight is very high. However, what goes against the favor of some air ambulance companies is the fact that they are unwilling to come in the network of insurance providers.
As we have always stated, the air ambulance industry and the insurance industry need to come together to find a middle path, so that the common person does not have to bear the burden of huge bills.
It has almost become a norm to blame organizations that offer medical flight services but not many people take the time or the effort to understand why they charge so steeply. While it cannot be denied that there is a definite profit motive as these are commercially operated organizations, there is more to their expenses than what meets the eye. The costs are not simply limited to the fuel that is utilized, there are far wider factors in play that push the costs up and we explore some of these.
The Major Expenses that All Medical Flight Services Must Meet
Typically, an air ambulance does not undertake more than three missions in a day. For the rest of the time, this highly expensive machine is simply forced to sit idle. Moreover, it does not fly a single mission several days in a year. While this is a fact, the cost of the funds raised to acquire it continues to compound. Same is the case with the base; medical flight services need a place to park the choppers and fixed-wing aircrafts throughout the year and the rent is, obviously, an added cost that needs to be borne.
The Expenses of Maintaining a Highly Qualified Team
Highly experienced pilots, paramedics, nurses and the technicians are just some of the staff members that medical flight services need to hire. Then, there are support staff, operational staff and the management staff too.
Utmost care is taken to ensure that the crew is properly rested. This translates into stipulated work hours regardless of there being a call for medical flight services or not. Of course, many of the crew members also take care of other duties while the air ambulance is docked; nevertheless, it is an expensive affair. Constant upgrades and training are other sources of expense, not to forget the expenses of remaining compliant with ever-changing regulations.
Psychosis can be a real problem for air ambulance professionals as they try to offer the best possible care during transport. Most often, specialists are relied upon to care for such patients during air ambulance travel. However, there are often cases where psychosis is simply a result of the situation that the patient is in and not necessarily a pre-existing condition. Therefore, the air ambulance professionals do not necessarily have any means to expect a situation like this. The reasons for the condition may be several and the response can vary from case to case. We look at some of such scenarios and discuss the best way to handle them.
Drug-Induced Psychosis on Air Ambulance
Crystal meth, cocaine, and a few designer drugs can induce severe psychosis in patients where they exhibit paranoid and panicky behaviour. The first course of action in such cases is administration of an antipsychotic drug. Restraints are not usually necessary unless the patient needs immediate IV medication. In such cases, a mild manual restraint is, most often, enough. However, unexpected display of physical strength during psychosis can warrant more effective and long- lasting restraints until hospital care is made available. The air ambulance professionals, in such instances, must ensure that the pulmonary function of the patient is not compromised in any way owing to the restraints.
Handing Patients with Pre-existing Mental Ailments
An example would be a schizophrenic who might need both medications and restraints to ensure smooth air ambulance travel. Usually, a qualified medical professional accompanies the patient in such situations. Then, there are also those patients who suffer from mild psychosis. The first approach to handle them is simply soothing words. Keeping such patients calm is often a matter of saying the right thing. Accompanying family members who know how to handle the patient are a huge help in cases like these.
The life of medical flight professionals can be quite adrenaline pumped most of the time but that does not preclude them from the responsibilities that come with being a part of the air ambulance industry. The training, the safety measures and the need to be on the call all the time are just some of the tasks that they are expected to undertake. Of course, the gratitude that they receive for saving lives is an additional bonus that perhaps every medical flight professional enjoys. Most people who become a part of the air ambulance industry very well know that they are stepping into a high stress job.
The Routine Tasks of Medical Flight Professionals
While the pilot is expected to run routine checks to keep the chopper health up, the medical flight crew members are required to ensure that all inventory and medical equipment are in place, the batteries are all charged up and basically ensure that all equipments are working fine so that they can effectively respond to emergencies. The station duties can range from keeping a tab on the blood fridge and logging fridge values to cleaning and taking out the trash. Each member assumes a responsibility when they are docked in the hangar.
Responding to Emergencies
While the medical flight professionals usually conduct several station duties, they subconsciously are always anticipating an emergency call. The moment it comes in, they are expected to leave everything and take up the duties that enable them to face the emergency effectively. They immediately do all that is needed to know about the patient health condition and equip the medical flight with all the necessities. The medical staff are alerted in the nearest appropriate hospital and logistics are quickly and efficiently taken care of. It should be noted that, in view of the fact that the entire routine is quite stressful, the crew is always allowed enough rest hours every day and are encouraged to get enough relaxation between shifts.
The questions that we discuss in this guide are primarily related to motor vehicle accidents. It must be noted that this is just a suggestive guide and only briefly looks into the various aspects that need to be covered when answering initial calls for airambulance dispatch. Most of the times, the calls are routed to airambulance service providers by emergency services. However, on rare occasions, calls may be made directly to the service providers. This guide may be helpful to an extent in situations like these.
Initial Questions to be Asked When a Request for Airambulance is Made
After a brief introduction and convincing the caller help is already on the way and that the call is in no way delaying the emergency response, attempts must be made to gain information regarding the motor vehicle accident victims. The caller should be asked whether he or she is still on the scene and whether the caller can see the patient. If the answer is negative, it is better to terminate the call and answer other calls pertaining to the same incident. However, if the answer comes in the positive, a different approach with a different set of questions must be followed.
The Subsequent Questions to be Asked
The person who calls the airambulance must be asked to quickly narrate what has transpired. Stock must be taken of the number of casualties and the caller must be asked where the patient is at the current time. Additionally, questions pertaining to the incident, in specific, must be asked. These could include the speed of the vehicle during the crash, the surface that the patient has fallen on, whether the patient is trapped, whether there are any burn injuries, etc. Apart from this, questions that are specific to the patient’s condition must be asked. These could be whether the patient is conscious and coherent, and whether the patient is breathing normally.
Questions like these will help you ascertain the seriousness of the situation and whether any ancillary services are required.
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.