Guide to Tackling Hypoxia on Medical Flights at High Altitudes

Hypoxia is almost a certainty at high altitudes unless it is cared for. However, it does not usually occur as medical flights usually have pressurised cabins. This does not mean that we do not pay any heed to this potentially life-threatening condition, which is a real possibility on medical flights, when the altitudes are in excess of 10 thousand feet above the sea level.

The word hypoxia, when literally translated means lack of oxygen. A decrease in supply of oxygen to human body can bring about myriad symptoms and recognizing these, especially when in medical flights, is extremely important, as patients are usually already in a weak health position in air ambulances.

The Signs of Hypoxia on Medical Flights

Paramedics and nurses onboard medical flights must look for signs such as impaired judgement, lethargy, poor physical coordination, bluing of the skin (also known as cyanosis) and rapid breathing. The intensity of each of these signs may vary but these are the most visible signs that the patient is experiencing hypoxia.

The Symptoms of Hypoxia on Medical Flights

Surprisingly, euphoria or extreme happiness can be a symptom of hypoxia. Other symptoms can be a sensation of tingling, impaired visual capacity, cold or hot flashes, dizziness, headache, nausea, fatigue and air hunger. Not all symptoms might be present in one single individual but at least some of these might be present when the patients are hypoxic in medical flights.

The Effects of Hypoxia on Human Beings

It must be noted that about 20% of all oxygen that we take in is used by our brain. So, one of the first organs that is affected by hypoxia is the brain. If the brain is deprived of oxygen, it can lead to severe and permanent brain damage leaving the person with impaired functions for life. In extreme cases, it may even cause death. However, treating hypoxia, fortunately, is easy. All that patients aboard medical flights need is 100% oxygen and the symptoms vanish within a matter of seconds.

Holidaying with Peace of Mind Means Having Access to Air Ambulance Services

Travel insurance is the safety net that you need when travelling abroad, especially in countries where the quality of health care is not the same as the one you enjoy in your home country. In such situations, air ambulance can become an absolute necessity. Most people assume that travel insurances automatically ensure an air ambulance to their home countries if they felt there is a necessity and that it is the patients’ choice to get the treatment wherever they desire; however, these beliefs are far from true. The insurance company can actually deny a claim and for the patient to get treatment in the visiting country. The company would weigh the cost advantage in situations like these.

Checks Air Ambulance Cover Before Purchasing the Travel Insurance

Explore as many travel insurance options as you can before zeroing down on a specific one. Reveal upfront the kind of activities you plan to indulge in and check out the premiums. If you have any pre-existing illness, make that known clearly and check out the premiums. The fear of higher premiums must not deter you from making this revelation as you can get into a huge financial mess owing to this mistake later.

Know Your Coverage Well

Also, some activities are considered very high risk and certain travel insurance policies might not cover them. If you’re going to be a part of some extreme adventure event, check out the facilities that the organizers offer and also whether the insurance company is willing to cover the mishaps that occur during such activities.

There have been several instances in the recent past where the travelers have not bothered to look closely enough whether the insurance company covers air ambulance services and later have had to resort to crowd funding to afford international air ambulance services. A little homework can avoid such issues and make your travel more secure and safe.

Understanding the Term ‘Medical Necessity’ in the Context of Medical Flights

One of the most basic criteria for insurances approving and covering costs of medical flights is establishing that there was actually a medical necessity for availing the service. However, understanding what constitutes a ‘medical necessity’ is important. Of course, we have discussed, in our earlier guides, that the decision to summon air ambulances can only be taken by the treating medical professionals in the hospital or at the site of accidents. Let’s dive into this topic a little deep here.

Medical Flights and their Advantage Over Ground Ambulances

It must be established or deemed important to leverage the advantage that medical flights have over ground ambulances. The instability that comes with transporting a patient via ground ambulance and the need for rapid medical transportation could be the two reasons to avail medical flight services. Further, the condition of the patient should be such that he or she could suffer serious medical consequences or even face death if an air ambulance is not used.

Accessibility of the Destination

An air ambulance can become a ‘medical necessity’ if the destination is located in a region that is remote or completely inaccessible to other forms of transportation. The ground approach to the destination could be such that it poses a serious threat to the patient owing to the terrain.

Time Taken to Reach the Nearest Treating Facility

There are times when a delay as small as 30 minutes to an hour can mean the difference between life and death. The ground ambulances may be available in such scenarios but the time that they take to reach the treating facility could be a deterrent and the advantage of quick transportation that comes with medical flights could be the advantage. Of course, the severity of the illness or the disease condition would be the primary factor behind this decision.

Qualifying for Medical Flight Insurance Reimbursements

‘Stringent’ is the word that comes to mind when you think of medical flight insurance coverage norms. Cost reimbursements of medical flights can mean between a retaining your life savings and letting it go to cover the huge bills. It is important to know the basis on which insurance companies accept or deny the claims. Of course, the foremost thing is to own a health insurance policy that covers medical flight services or medical transportation of any form for that matter. If this condition is taken care of, following are the other conditions that you must be mindful of.

Insurance Coverage for Medical Flight Services

Medical flight services to and from hospitals are covered by Medicare Part B. It is worthy to note here that air medical transportation to skilled nursing facilities is also covered under Part B. However, it should be noted that medical flight coverage is provided when it is deemed that ground ambulances are not suitable for the medical condition or when it is determined that the patient is in dire need of care and timely care is possible when the patient is carried to the treating facility in the shortest possible time via an air ambulance.

Approval by the Treating Professional is Necessary

The ultimate decision of whether a medical flight service is necessary lies with the treating professional who could be a physician or a paramedic attending an emergency. This decision cannot be taken by the patient and in most cases cannot be overruled either.

If the medical flight company feels that the patient might not be able to pay for its services, it can ask the patient to sign Advance Beneficiary Notice that states that the patient would be responsible for the payment in case the insurance company refuses reimbursement. The patient can refuse to sign this notice; however, if the air ambulance company goes ahead and carries the patient, he or she might still be held responsible for the payment.

Airambulance Guide: Altitude Decompression Sickness

Altitude decompression sickness is not unique to airambulance flights or to patients alone. It is a condition that is generally associated with high altitudes. It was only in the 1930s that this phenomenon was recognized by the medical community. The problem was observed in aircrafts as well as high-altitude hot-air balloons. Today, we have a better understanding of altitude decompression sickness, but still, we are not insulated from the dangers of this medical condition. It is a must that medical crews aboard airambulance flights are well aware of this. Here, we explain this condition in simpler terms.

This is What Airambulance Crew Members Need to be Aware of

The basis for understanding altitude decompression sickness is Henry’s Law, which says, “When the pressure of a gas over a liquid is decreased, the amount of gas dissolved in that liquid will also decrease.”

The concept is best explained with the example of soda. What do you observe when the bottle is opened? The formerly ‘calm’ liquid suddenly sees a flurry of activities. The air bubbles that previously were nonexistent suddenly show an insane urgency to escape the bottle, pushing their way through the liquid. Why does this happen? The answer is Henry’s Law.

When the bottle is sealed, the pressure inside is at a constant high, but when it is opened, the liquid is exposed to pressure in the atmosphere outside the bottle, which is comparatively much lower, so much of the gas escapes the liquid.

How Does Henry’s Law Relate to Human Body?

Human beings have high amounts of nitrogen gas throughout the body. When the airambulance is flying at high altitudes, if the cabin is not pressurized, the possibility is that nitrogen will escape the body, owing to the decreased atmospheric pressure that prevails at high altitudes. Of course, modern airambulance vehicles are well insulated from such dangers and can safely travel at high altitudes.