The job of the air ambulance professionals is tough no doubt but it has gotten tougher owing to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Today, the healthcare workers are exposed to the risk of contracting the Coronavirus infection which has enveloped the world in a dreadful storm. While the usual precautions that are taken by the general public apply to the air ambulance professionals too, there are additional precautions that are expected to be taken by these frontline workers. Washing hands, keeping alcohol-based sanitizers, and face masks apart from protective bodysuits are just a few of the obvious ones. We take a look at other precautions that must be taken by the medical flight workers.
CPR is a Risk for Air Ambulance Professionals
A lot of the emergency calls that air ambulance professionals receive are related to drug overdoses and cardiovascular problems. Both of these conditions can necessitate cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR. However, in the face of the Coronavirus infection, this can pose a real, life-threatening problem to the healthcare workers. The constant compression of the chest can release salivary particles that can enter the system of a healthy individual through the air or simply settle down on the clothing. If the CPR is being conducted in a closed environment, the risk can compound itself greatly.
Only the Very Serious Emergencies Must be Attended
Even hospitals today are considering only tending to the very serious cases that need hospital attention. The emergency department professionals are donning full protective gear when taking a look at emergency cases. The reason for this is obvious: they have no idea whether the symptoms are because of COVID-19.
Hospital emergency departments are asking the frontline on-the-field healthcare workers to wait for a while and try to revive them before even considering bringing them to the hospital for further care.
Frequent travelers – especially those who go to various countries for business – usually make sure that they have an emergency air ambulance evacuation membership. These memberships are in addition to the travel insurance coverage that is usually bought.
Today, COVID-19 has thrown up new problems when it comes to evacuation utilizing air ambulance services across borders. The million-dollar question, therefore, is this – “are air ambulance evacuation memberships useless in the current scenario?”
International Air Ambulance Evacuation Memberships are Currently of No Use
One thing that most countries have in common during this COVID-19 pandemic is the lockdown. Almost all countries have locked their borders to international flights. No one can get in or out of a country any longer unless it is a rescue mission that is conducted by the governments at the highest diplomatic levels. What use is an air ambulance evacuation membership in this scenario? The answer to this question is obvious. There is no much that a medical flight company can do in a situation like this. However, the efficacy of this emergency transport remains for domestic transfers. They are all the more important in the face of the Coronavirus epidemic that has gripped the United States today.
Air Ambulance Membership and Domestic Emergency Evacuation
The United States is preparing to face the pandemic on a war footing. However, the risk of spread to the rural areas still looms large. If there is an outbreak in the rural areas, air ambulance memberships are going to come quite handy. Reaching the urban medical facilities on time will be crucial for those who are severely infected by Coronavirus.
In this context, people must note that it is only the most severe of the cases that are admitted to hospitals for critical care and ventilator support. However, most of the infections are mild, and experts say that some are even asymptomatic.
As the United States comes to a realization that its healthcare system – one of the most expensive in the world – is not all that prepared to handle the Coronavirus or COVID-119 pandemic, medical flights are turning out to be the most viable option, especially for rural communities of the country. According to one estimate by Kaiser Health News, there are over 7 million people in the United States who are 60-plus and at a particularly high risk of severe Coronavirus infection. Now, add to the mix, the fact that over half of the counties in the country do not have enough intensive care beds and the magnitude of the problem suddenly dawns upon us.
Reaching Intensive Care Units via Medical Flights
Intensive care units usually have high-tech bedside equipment that is, otherwise, absent in regular healthcare facilities. They have ventilators that are essential for survival in severe COVID-19 cases. In this context, it must be noted that in most counties, where intensive care units are available, the number of beds is hugely limited. At times, it is just one bed for a few hundred seniors. For instance, it has been highlighted that in Jefferson County, the Louisville area has just one intensive care unit bed for almost 450 people. If you thought that was bad, imagine the state of Santa Cruz, California, which just has one for over 2,500 people. However, the numbers improve significantly when it comes to urban areas. This gap can be efficiently bridged by medical flights.
Costs, Insurance, and Medical Flights
In the days to come, it is the will of the government that will matter the most. If drastic steps are taken to take care of the cost of medical flights through better insurance coverage or government aid, the situation can be handled better. At the current time, a clear indication needs to go out to the providers of medical flights, so that they can prep their choppers and airplanes to aid in the containment of the pandemic in a timely manner.
Imagine an emergency situation where a cruise ship is stranded in the middle of the ocean with hundreds of people on it. The only way out is an air ambulance service, due to time constraints and the less-than-ideal condition of the ship. However, there is one big challenge. Helicopters can only function one at a time due to turbulence. While multiple choppers can be put into play, only one can hoist people at any given time. That is not the end of it. The hoists that are commonly used are only capable of carrying one person at a time, and it roughly takes about three minutes at a minimum to onboard one person.
How can an Air Ambulance Enhance Hoisting Capacity?
Traditionally, air ambulance helicopters have gone with hoists that are capable of carrying about 500 to 600 pounds of weight at the max. This translates not to more than two people. Also, often, rescuers have to be on the hoist to assist in the evacuation. This makes the whole process inefficient and time-consuming. However, today, thanks to advances in technology, hoist baskets are being produced. The design and metallurgical expertise make them light and sturdy. These are capable of carrying up to 4,400 pounds and can accommodate up to 15 people at a time.
The Capacity of the Helicopter also Matters
Baskets are available in various capacities. Depending on how powerful the chopper is, an appropriate basket can be chosen. The baskets are approved by the regulatory authorities too. They are considered not only safe but also very comfortable. These baskets are brand named Heli-Baskets and currently are in production. If adopted by the air ambulance industry with open arms, these rescue equipment can change the way hoisting is conducted during rescue missions. They can make the whole exercise cheaper, quick, comfortable, and efficient.
Medical air transport could witness a drastic transformation if the Urban Air Mobility challenge is successful. The intent behind the challenge is to bring greater mobility to urban areas that are usually dense with people and traffic, hindering emergency transportation. The challenge has been put forth by NASA. The organization has already signed up 17 different agencies in the aviation industry, and the results could bring about a sea of change in medical air transport. NASA will be leveraging its partnership with the FAA to make the effort successful. Moreover, it would help to expedite the most viable solutions.
Although the challenge will begin this year, the first actual Grand Challenge will be held in the year 2022 where developmental activities will finally take place. This will include real-world scenarios as well as simulation environments. The participants will be judged on criteria such as communication, surveillance, and navigation. NASA will help the chosen ones with quick approvals and tech certifications.
Healthcare Technology and Medical Air Transport
Royal Philips is a well-known player in the international health technology domain. Now, the organization has embarked on an effort to make emergency services such as medical air transport more efficient. The company plans to first look at the wealth of data that the healthcare industry currently sits upon. This can help emergency services be more precise in their response. For instance, a medical air transport company, with the help of real-time data, will be able to carry the right specialists and the right equipment for better outcomes.
At the same time, Philips is trying to make bulky equipment such as defibrillators and monitors more compact so that they can be carried around more easily. If successful, the effort could result in better patient and provider satisfaction. It may even cut the cost of emergency medical services.
In the prevailing scenario, patients and emergency personnel rely heavily on phone calls to summon medical flights. The methodology is highly time-consuming and necessitates a lot of information to set up an air ambulance and then dispatch it. This is not an ideal situation when the patient needs urgent care, especially when technological advancements are capable of making things much easier. We use mobile applications every day to order taxi services. What if we could replicate the model to order medical flights too? Would it not be an ideal replacement for the current time-consuming methodology? Let’s take a look at the different aspects.
Integrating Medical Flights – More Power to Choose
Imagine a mobile application that allows you to choose from a list of air ambulance service providers. Out-of-network services will cease to be a problem and insurance companies will be more likely to approve the claims that a consequence of ordering medical flights. From patients to physicians, everyone would have instant access to multiple service providers. The app can also feature details about air ambulance affiliations with various insurance networks. The whole exercise would be much more efficient than it currently is.
Integrating Medical Flights with Electronic Health Systems
Patient information is today stored in highly secure electronic health systems. Hospitals and medical service providers are mandated by the government to store patient information in these systems. What this means is that all patient information such as medical history, allergy, family history, etc., is readily available during emergencies. Imagine connecting this data to the patient through the app. As soon as medical flights are called for, a notification can directly go to the receiving physician, along with all the medical details. If this becomes a reality, the receiving facility would be much better prepared for the patients and will be able to offer timely care, resulting in faster recovery.
Amid thundering engines and pounding heartbeats, crews of medical flights set out on life-saving missions every day. The mission starts even before the takeoff. The planning begins with choosing the right crew, the right aircraft, ground coordination, specialists – the list goes on. On long-haul flights, it is also about accommodating the crew members of the medical flights once they land in far off places. Accounting for all the eventualities is what makes a mission successful.
Medical Flights beyond Borders
It takes anywhere between 12 hours to a day to get appropriate permissions for medical flights to cross borders. Failing to achieve this, can result in unnecessary delays and administrative hurdles. When the patient is critical, such a waste of time is can prove to be the difference between life and death. The degree of difficulty in obtaining these permits varies from one country to another. It can cost anywhere between USD 50 and USD 400.
Security of Medical Flights
All said and done, there are always those rare instances where air ambulances have to take off, and the ground staff then has to quickly work towards obtaining the permits. Security is a prime concern in such instances, especially if the travel destination is politically volatile. Experienced medical flight service providers are well aware of such issues and are always prepared for them. They know the process and the people in the right places to make it happen.
Planning the Duration
Typically, air ambulances can be prepared to take off within an hour but these are always short-haul. For longer distances, it can take twice this time. Fuel, medical supplies, landing permits, etc. are part of the preparation.
Medical flights are usually called for emergencies. It takes an experienced crew to smoothly handle the unexpected. This includes the pilot and also coordinators during long flights.
Healthcare costs are not just about air ambulance costs. The United States of America has one of the highest healthcare costs in the entire world. An average American spends over 10 thousand USD in a year and the nation spends 3.3 trillion USD each year. This amounts to about 18 percent of the country’s GDP. Let alone the need for an air ambulance, a simple emergency room visit can leave a foreign national in huge debt. Hospitals simply do not release patients unless the care debts are paid out in full. A scenario like this can quickly turn a fun vacation into a financial nightmare, leaving the patient bankrupt.
A New Legislation May Necessitate Insurance
Although the legislation is primarily targeted towards immigrants to the nation, it is not entirely clear whether it applies to visitors to the nation as well. According to the new law, immigrants will have to purchase insurance for a period of 365 days or until such time that they stay in the country, whichever comes earlier. The move is meant to insulate the country from bearing high healthcare costs. In the face of this uncertainty, experts recommend that, regardless of the regulation, visitors must opt for comprehensive insurance.
A Policy that Covers Air Ambulance Services is Ideal
Not all visitors to the country arrive without insurance. However, many of them do not opt for adequate coverage. A slightly expensive premium can offer comprehensive coverage. Here is a scenario: you embark on a cruise during your visit. Unfortunately, you end up having a stroke. You will need to be flown to the nearest appropriate medical facility via an air ambulance service. The cost of this transport is going to cost quite a lot. The wise thing to do, therefore, is to explicitly ask your insurance provider about air ambulance coverage to stay safe.
Medical flight professionals function in an atmosphere of uncertainty today where what seems like an unknown illness can be a highly infectious disease, especially with the flu season and infections like Novel Coronavirus making rounds. In this context, how can they ensure their safety while caring for the sick? The question beckons some thought and also a few precautions to remain safe. Difficulty breathing, fever, and cough can be reason enough to take the precautions that we discuss below. The idea is for medical flight personnel to remain prepared to avoid any unforeseen eventualities.
Precautions to be Taken by Medical Flight Professionals
The foremost thing to do is to handle bodily fluids such as blood, vomit, and diarrhea with utmost caution. In this regard, hand washing is very important. Washing hands often when in contact with patients with respiratory difficulty is advisable. Soap is effective, but alcohol-based cleaning agent, which contains at least 60% alcohol is also advised. Care must be taken to not touch the nose, eyes, or mouth with unwashed hands. Medical flight professionals must make ample use of disposable gloves while handling patients. These must be disposed of carefully in biohazard bags. It must be kept in mind that hands are washed even after removing the gloves.
Other Precautions that are Necessary
In areas that are known to have even the smallest number of infected patients, medical flight professionals must make use of bodysuits that are certified to insulate from infections. Since it is suspected that Novel Coronavirus can be aerosolized, it is wise to wear a facemask as a form of protection. Also, the number of personnel coming in direct contact with the sick should be minimized, although it is impossible to completely eliminate this possibility. Most importantly, one should be well-versed with the precautions put forth by the CDC.
Drones have immense potential to augment the efforts of the air ambulance industry. They reduce costs, reach treacherous terrains, and function in risky situations. Thanks to modern technologies like cloud computing and Internet of Things, drones today are making advances in leaps and bounces. However, drones can be a menace too. Flying too close to air ambulances have caused many flights to be aborted midway and led to near-fatal accidents. The fact that such disturbances occur when carrying critical patients is an added insult to the injury. In other words, the air ambulance industry views drones with a mixed feeling. Here, we take a look at some recent developments that prove our point.
The Air Ambulance Industry is Trying to Tackle Stray Drones
Air ambulance industry experts say that, in the UK, drones are not allowed to fly over 400 feet. Failing to comply with this rule can attract fines of up to 1,000 British pounds. However, the problem is that air ambulances, most of the time, are compelled to fly below this altitude. With a growing number of hobbyists taking up flying drones, this is turning out to be a real danger for the air ambulance industry.
The only thing that medical flight organizations can do in this scenario is building awareness. Industry experts say that a good rule of thumb is to keep the drones in sight at all times. If the drone is not visible to the hobbyist, it is likely that it is disturbing a helicopter, likely a medical flight that is en route, trying to help a critical patient before it is too late.
A Full-Service Drone Company Takes Birth in the United States
There is also some good news for the air ambulance industry pertaining to drones. A company by the name Aquiline has come up with a drone that is capable of executing medical rescue operations. The company has developed a dedicated cloud environment and an operating system to make drone operations seamless.
In light of the above developments, it is safe to say that responsible use of drones will definitely help the air ambulance industry in the future.