The air ambulance industry has evolved at a rapid pace in recent times. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it might seem that evolution has lost its sheen, but this is far from the truth. The industry continues to change at a rapid pace. In fact, the commercial aviation industry is adopting some of the advances witnessed by the air ambulance industry. For instance, the renowned aviation company, Lufthansa, now has the facility to offer oxygen to patients while onboard. Such developments can make a great case if the patient opts for a medical escort in any commercial airliner for long-haul flights.
What Kind of Equipment does the Air Ambulance Industry Need Onboard?
If one takes a close look at the air ambulance industry, it becomes immediately apparent that support equipment is used in abundance. However, the availability of diagnostic equipment leaves much to desire. While support equipment is necessary, when it comes to long flights, diagnostic equipment is important too. It is not enough that qualified medical staff accompany the patient. The staff must be empowered by providing adequate diagnostic tools. This is especially important as the patients’ condition can change significantly when taking flights that last for several hours at a stretch.
What are the Considerations for Loading Equipment Onboard?
It is undeniable that cost is a major factor. The air ambulance industry is today under a lot of pressure to keep the service costs down. This pressure obviously impacts the decision to acquire more equipment as it increases the cost of acquisition as well as maintenance, which ultimately must be transferred to the patients or insurance providers.
The other major consideration is the weight and volume of the equipment. Unless there are smart innovations aimed at fitting large diagnostic equipment into tiny spaces, it is impossible to carry them. Training the staff to handle the modified equipment is another important factor that must be considered.
Medical flight professionals play an important role in offering life-saving services that range from triaging to offering emergency medical care on the spot and during transit. However, it must be observed that they perform these tasks in enclosed spaces with limited resources, both in terms of equipment and personnel. Rapid decisions and medical interventions are all a part of their daily routine. There is a constant need to keep in touch with medical experts on the ground. That’s not the end of it, the crew is expected to maintain a clear record of what has been done so that the transfer of care is smooth and seamless.
Best Practices for Medical Flight Professionals
The foremost thing to do is inform the receiving hospital about the status of the patient. If he or she is suspected of COVID-19 infection that must be made apparent. Even in the absence of a clear test report, if the patient is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, it is best to keep the receiving hospital informed. This is especially important as the protocol to receive a COVID-19 patient varies when compared to other health conditions. The practice can save several valuable minutes and appropriate care can be quickly provided upon landing.
Personal Care is Important
It is not possible to drastically modify most if the medical flight choppers to accommodate COVID-19 patients. Being in an enclosed space without a clear separation between the crew and the patient increases the risk of infection. However, PPE (personal protective equipment) offers an effective shield in this situation. It is reported that the PPE can be uncomfortable when worn for long periods of time, but it should not be a reason to compromise safety. Also, all mandated sanitization protocols laid down by the CDC and other government health agencies must be strictly adhered to.
Medical flight crews are at the frontline of the COVID-19 battle. While these brave men and women are tirelessly working for the good of patients, the fact remains that it is taking an immense toll on their mental health. The working conditions have drastically changed – sanitization and donning of PPE are necessary at every step. Not just that, there is the constant fear of contracting the infection and eventually passing it on to the loved ones. Torn between the sense of responsibility towards the society and to their families, medical flight crews are under tremendous pressure today. However, help is not far for such individuals.
Medical Flight Companies Recognize the Need to Help
Medical flight companies around the world are formulating policies that offer help when the crew members need it the most. Offering counseling and professional mental health on particularly tough days is one such effort. Also, companies are keeping an open line so that the frontline workers can seek help when they need it. Some of them are even going to the extent of preparing questionnaires to assess the mental status of the healthcare workers who constantly take to skies in tough situations.
William and Kate’s Foundation is Leading the Way
The two royals have been regularly advocating for the medical flight industry in the United Kingdom. Their efforts have been targeted at the mental health of frontline workers too. Now, they have set up a fund of British Pounds 1.8 million that will help this cause. The idea is to include the frontline workers as well as those affected heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their organization will lend a helping hand to 10 chosen charitable entities. Access to peer-to-peer support and mental health resources is among them. The effort will surely help when the anxiety level among medical flight crews is perhaps at its highest.
The air medical transport industry has improved a lot over time. From being a mere carrier from point A to point B, the services today act as mini ICUs offering life-saving services during transit. Ventilators and defibrillators have long been a part of some air ambulances. Now, going a step forward, a South Dakota based air medical transport company will provide blood and plasma transfusion as the patient is transported. The medical flight service provider will keep blood and plasma handy in case of emergencies. It is an important milestone, in that the development will directly impact the ultimate medical outcomes.
Air Medical Transport Services will be Able to Respond More Effectively
Air medical transport service providers are often a part of evacuations during accidents. In many of these cases, blood loss is the root cause of emergencies. Now, instead of waiting for hospitals, air ambulance services will be able to provide the urgently needed blood transfusions. Of course, qualified medical personnel will need to be a part of such services so that the right call is taken and on time. Air ambulances are expected to carry universal and most common blood groups to be able to cater to the patients.
Air Ambulance Industry has always been at the Forefront of Offering Better Care
We often see the air medical transport industry being a part of the headlines for reasons like high bills. However, what is almost never highlighted is the fact that they increase the survival rates of the patients. It must be understood that offering enhanced care comes at a cost, which should ideally be borne by the insurance providers, failing which obviously the burden will be passed to the ultimate beneficiary– the patient. This is an area of concern that must be solved, lest the air ambulance industry will not find the right incentive to offer better care.
Disinfecting the air ambulance has become one of the topmost concerns for the industry today. The problems that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth are unprecedented. It is, therefore, no surprise that air ambulance companies are grappling to find an effective protocol that can be followed. When one refers to safety, it’s all-inclusive today – from the crew members to the patients. Here are some steps that are highly recommended.
Follow a Consistent Air Ambulance Disinfection Protocol
The Centers for Disease Control in the United States recommends that air ambulance companies follow a consistent protocol. The basic rule is to ensure adequate ventilation during the cleaning process, especially when using chemical disinfectants. The aircraft doors should remain open during this process.
Wearing Personal Protective Equipment is Necessary
Donning personal protective equipment or PPE is very important. Keep in mind that the Coronavirus can remain on surfaces for hours. You do not want to contract the infection by coming in direct contact with it during the cleaning process. Discard the PPE right after the cleaning process is complete.
Adequate Ventilation is Very Important
It is hard to provide ventilation when an air ambulance has taken off. However, an adequate inlet of light is helpful. When the air ambulance is not in use, care must be taken to allow adequate airflow too. This is particularly helpful in getting rid of airborne infections like the COVID-19.
Using Appropriate Disinfectants is Absolutely Vital
Bleach is very widely used as a disinfectant but can give rise to noxious fumes. A detergent-based disinfectant is most effective. This is because the Coronavirus is covered by a layer of fat and soaps are known to dissolve fat instantly. The process instantly kills COVID-19.
Disposal of Soiled Linens
It is highly recommended that the soiled linen is not shaken in any way and is disposed of in a careful manner so that any infection-causing virus is not transferred to the surrounding surface.
It is imperative that the guidelines laid down by agencies like the CDC are followed meticulously. There is no substitute for these life-saving guidelines.
The Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Medical Air Services recently revealed that they are witnessing a whopping 40% increase in demand for their services. On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a sharp fall in the finances.
As the nations around the world have eased lockdowns, more and more people are out on the streets. This has increased the chances of injuries related to accidents and crime. The medical air services are seeing a proportionate increase in demand due to these factors.
In regions where the lockdowns have not been eased, the rise in domestic violence and anxiety-related ailments are on a sharp rise. However, the medical flight companies are in a bind.
Health Risk Faced by Medical Air Services Crews
The crews of medical air services are highly exposed to the risk of contracting deadly Coronavirus. When you look at the world scenario, there have been several reports of frontline workers being infected. This puts added pressure on the remaining staff. Added to this problem is the inability to act fast due to the stringent disinfection process being put in place for the safety of the crew as well as the patients.
Air Ambulance Organizations Dependent on Charities are Struggling to Raise Money
It is a known fact that people around the world are losing jobs and consequently their income. In a situation like this, raising money for causes like that of medical air services is an uphill task. For countries like the United Kingdom where air ambulance organizations depend heavily on charity, this is a big blow. Besides, it is tough for individuals to initiate fund-raising activities. All these factors have rendered the industry a heavy blow. Countries like the United States where air ambulance companies are already reeling under losses, shutting down seems like a real threat.
The phenomenon, widely known as surprise billing, has troubled the United States for quite some time. It has been highlighted from time to time and fingers have been pointed at the insurance companies. The air ambulance industry is the only exception where it is being blamed for the excess bills that people are compelled to foot. Why so? The answer is obvious: the size of the bills is so big that it often makes headlines. In this context, the pertinent question to ask is this: is surprise billing a problem that is limited to the air ambulance industry? The answer is a resounding ‘no’.
Air Ambulance Services and the Concept of Insurance Network
Imagine a situation where you have to get checked for a potential disease that can be life-threatening. You take care to ensure that you choose a hospital that is within your insurance network. You are referred to a specialist and a few lab tests are ordered. A week later, you come to know that the specialist and the lab tests are not within the insurance network and you are expected to pay off the bills all by yourself. It seems like a no-win situation, right?
Whose Responsibility is to Verify Insurance Network?
It is unrealistic to expect the patients, who often are in emergencies, to verify network coverage before availing treatment. The responsibility must, therefore, be jointly shared by the service providers and the insurance companies. At present, that is not the case. This is the precise reason why surprise billing is so prevalent. In the case of air ambulance services, this amount is usually pretty steep, driving families towards bankruptcy. The blame ultimately is pinned on the air ambulance industry, which is not entirely fair. However, it must be noted that the medical flight industry is loosely regulated when it comes to billing practices and must be scrutinized too.
People around the world are wary of getting out of the confines of the home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The result has been a reduction in emergency calls for the air ambulance industry. The change has come into play due to the reduced crime rates and accidents as fewer people have ventured out lately. While this is a good sign in general, there is a negative commercial aspect to it that can affect this commercial emergency service profoundly. It must be understood that reduced calls affect the revenue of the air ambulance industry in general where most players are heavily indebted.
The Expenses have Increased
Responding to emergencies is no longer the same as it used to be. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed things deeply. Today, the paramedics must sport personal protective equipment (PPE) before they venture out into helping anyone on the ground. This is essential to protect the crew’s health and also that of the person who is facing the emergency. This results in a further uptick in the cost as these PPEs cannot be reused. Also, there are protocols in place for sanitization after each evacuation, which further adds to the cost.
The Air Ambulance Industry is Seeking Financial Aid
It is not that there has been no financial aid coming towards the air ambulance industry; however, it is yet to be seen how effective the distribution has been. It must be noted in this context that several small players in the industry cater to rural communities. These critical services are the only line of defense for these communities where local hospitals have shut down in large numbers. If these organizations are not helped financially, they might eventually shut down. It is therefore vital that a close watch is kept on the industry’s requirements.
The lockdowns around the world are easing, down and people are slowly gaining the confidence back to venture out and involve in matters that are pressing for a society to function normally. One of such activities is medical flight charity. Countries like the United Kingdom depend heavily on public contributions to keep the air ambulance services running. Here are a few developments that stand evidence to the fact that they are inching towards normalcy.
A Kid from Reading Raising Money for Medical Flight Services
Alfie, an 8-year-old boy, has made news for his efforts to raise money for Children’s Air Ambulance. This enterprising child organized a sponsored run and has been selling bird feeders to raise money. It is believed that he has already raised a few hundred pounds through his relentless efforts. Alfie is a part of #TheCrew, a children’s club, involved in raising money for the worthy cause.
Medics in Ireland take up Cycling Challenge to Raise Money
A team of 11, comprising of an engineer, six doctors, and 4 paramedics is all set to take up a cycling challenge that will cover 110 miles. The effort has come in the face of COVID-19 pandemic, which stalled several fund-raising efforts. The endurance challenge is set to take place between the 2nd and 3rd of October. The expectation is that it will raise the much-needed funds to keep the medical flight services going. They are doing this for the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance.
Midlands Air Ambulance Charity goes Virtual
This charity has revealed that their pre-hospital services have shot up by 35% due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization has, therefore, decided to give the community that it serves an insight into what typically goes on. It will, of course, be a fund-raising initiative too. The organization has taken the virtual route to ensure the safety of the community amid the pandemic.
Congress has been focussing heavily on eliminating surprise billing practices and involves not just the air ambulance industry but the healthcare landscape as a whole in the United States. In this regard, one significant development has been the introduction of the Consumer Protection Against Surprise Medical Billing Act. The Act is currently slated to enter the United States House of Representatives for a vote. Thus far, the billing practices of the industry have found protection under the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which precludes the states from interfering in the matters of medical flight billing.
The New Bill and Air Ambulance Billing
The most important provision of the bill is that it will protect all the patients against balance billing practices even if the service provider is out-of-network of the insurance company. The patients will only be charged according to the in-network charges, which obviously will be covered by their insurance.
Explanation of benefits in advance is another important provision. Currently, the patients have no say in opting for air ambulance services during emergencies. The healthcare provider would take the call during the emergency, and the patient would not have a say. This will change with the introduction of the new bill, allowing the patient to make an informed decision.
If the new bill is successful, the air ambulance service providers would be compelled to give cost estimates before providing the services to the patient. In essence, the patient will be able to make a prudent financial decision if he or she is paying by cash or is uninsured.
A mediated process for resolution of the dispute would be put in place. Any party involved including the air ambulance company would be free to dispute any part of the payment through a mediated process. There would be a window of 30 days to find a resolution.