Among the most important factors that count when it comes to medical flight risk assessment according to the Federal Aviation Safety Administration is having an accurate flight risk assessment tool. Such a tool enables the pilots to evaluate the flight risk well in advance and to make an informed decision whether to proceed with the medical flight rescue mission or not. An efficient tool enables the pilot and the flight team to develop a risk mitigation strategy that is effective enough. It includes everything from weather condition assessment to cabin preparation for the patient who will be onboarded. However, there are several other factors, too and often, it is an evolving situation that the risk assessment tool must factor in.
The Changing Medical Flight Risk Landscape
Pandemics, volatile political conditions, conflicts, sudden weather changes – the factors that result in increased medical flight risk are several. The tool must take into consideration all these factors. Of course, the tool must work on inputs received digitally as well as through manual human intervention. There are specialized disciplines when it comes to such assessments today. Not to forget the numerous safety organizations throughout the world. However, sometimes the safety standards of one country can conflict with another.
Medical Flights Across Borders
Crossing certain international borders is considered low risk. For instance, a medical flight company would not think twice before flying a patient between the United States and the United Kingdom. However, the considerations vary vastly when, for instance, when it is between a country like Sudan and the United States. Of course, not all medical flight companies undertake missions in countries that are considered volatile. Having said that there are private medical flight companies today that specialize in undertaking missions from high-conflict nations. It all boils down to the adequacy and the efficiency of the risk models, tools and human expertise that they employ.
Air ambulance transport can be an expensive affair, especially when the patient needs to be flown from one country to another. However, it must be noted that air ambulance transport is not always a necessity. When patients are unable to tolerate a normal flight that demands hours of maintaining a sitting position, stretchers become a cost-effective alternative to booking a full air ambulance flight. Most commercial airliners make way for such a facility. The effort involved is not much, but it does take quite a bit of coordination, demanding knowledge and planning pertaining to medical stretchers. Let’s take a brief look.
Stretchers are Almost as Effective as Air Ambulance Transport
Essentially, when you contact an air ambulance transport company, their team would get in touch with a commercial airliner and make provisions to remove a few seats. In the place of those seats, a medical stretcher is then fitted. This allows the patient to travel lying down. It also makes way for treatments such as intravenous fluid transfusion and constant monitoring of the patient. It is normal for medical staff to travel along with the patient. The medical transport company also arranges the seamless transfer from the hospital to the airport and from the airport to the destination upon landing.
There are Limitations
A critically or severely ill patient cannot be transported via stretchers on commercial flights. Air ambulance transport becomes the only solution in such cases. A medical flight can create all those facilities that are typical of an ICU but the same cannot be arranged in a commercial flight. Also, those patients who are at high risk for contracting infections like COVID and those who are suffering from a highly infectious disease cannot be transported via commercial flights. Again, such patients must rely on air ambulance transport.
From time to time we bring you the latest developments in the air ambulance world. From the changes that the pandemic has brought about to the struggles of air ambulance charities to stay afloat, there is much happening in the space. We cover a few that have made the headlines and turned heads of the world.
Prince William Helps the Air Ambulance Industry Again
The cause of the air ambulance industry, which mainly runs on charity in the UK, is something that is very close to the heart of Prince William who has been a pilot himself. He has been seen helping organizations from time to time through various interventions. This time around, he has lent the lawn of his Kensington Palace residence to aid medical helicopters to refuel amid the pandemic. Without this option, air ambulance vehicles would have to travel an additional 20 miles. The prince is currently residing in their country home in Norfolk.
Air Ambulance Services are Serving Several Countries Amid the Pandemic
Evacuation of people has been a task that several air ambulance companies have taken up during the pandemic. Take for instance REVA a Florida-based medical flight company. Recently, the company had flown people to various parts of the United States, Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom. In this context, it must be noted that cross-border evacuation can be quite complex, especially with lockdowns in several parts of the world.
Great Western Air Ambulance Charity Reports Shortage of Funds
This UK-based charity has reported that it has witnessed a drop of 250,000 British pounds in its funds. The organization relies heavily on public funds to stay afloat. It had been of service to over 1,700 patients last year with each mission costing about 2,000 British pounds. With the lockdown restrictions easing slowly, the demand for its services is expected to grow and the charity is sure to be in a fix to meet this demand.
According to one research medical flight services run by for-profit organizations had seen, on average, 7 to 8 crashes a year between 1998 and 2012. Of these mishaps, the biggest contributors were those organizations that ran the most medical flights. This raised serious concerns about the safety norms followed by the industry and several studies and investigations were performed simultaneously to make the skies safer for the crew and the patients. The result was some startling revelations. It was seen that the crew was pressured to make as many flights as possible in a day to maintain the profitability of the organizations that they worked for.
What Were the Medical Flight Services Doing?
It was seen that medical flight services were taking orders for new rescue missions even during an ongoing mission. This caused unnecessary operational chaos and instilled a sense of urgency among the crew members. Moreover, it was seen that ground ambulance paramedics were being hired by medical flight services too. This was causing a conflict of interest, wherein the possibility of the paramedics contacting their favored service providers was high. It was also found that some so-called rescues were actually unnecessary as they did not provide any advantage over the ground transportation.
New Safety Laws were Passed
The medical flight industry was subjected to intense scrutiny. Certain safeguards such as maximum permissible hours of work for crew members and laws concerning visibility were put in place. The aging aircrafts had to be replaced by new and safer ones. Upgrades with respect to technology were also made compulsory in certain areas. Better weather reporting and aids for in-flight decision-making were put in place. It can be stated, with confidence, today, that medical flight services are safer and more efficient. The industry and the patients that it serves have benefitted immensely from these developments.
It was a normal family outing for 11-year-old Emilia, fondly referred to as Millie by her family. Never had they dreamt that soon they would be in need of an air ambulance service. The family was out on a horse riding activity when all of a sudden Emilia fell off her pony. That was not all, further aggravating the situation was the fact that the pony’s hoof landed on her jaw. The little girl’s jaw was shattered, and she was in immense pain as the family watched helplessly. That is when the air ambulance service arrived, right in time to offer much-needed help.
The Air Ambulance Service was Crucial
North West Air Ambulance Service was quick to reach the spot and immediately administered morphine to relieve the pain. Once that was accomplished the girl was evacuated to a medical facility where she received jaw correction treatment. The evacuation was done through a land ambulance, but the initial treatment offered by the air ambulance service was crucial. She also got replacement teeth as a few had been lost due to the accident.
The Parents Express their Gratitude
The mother of the child was a first-hand witness to the accident, and she described the incident as horrifying. She was thankful for the air ambulance service that arrived in time for support and treatment. The family, as a mark of gratitude, arranged a charitable event to raise funds for the air ambulance. It was an equestrian event and they managed to raise about 600 British pounds. The family also said that they would do everything in their means to contribute to the medical flight organization. It must be noted in this context that in the United Kingdom, air ambulances depend on charitable contributions by the community to stay afloat. The accident occurred in July, and the girl has now recovered and is healthy.
The life of an air ambulance pilot is risky with weather conditions that transform without warning and the ongoing COVID-19 situation. However, it is not impossible to take precautions and prepare for them. Then, there are mindless pranks that are played by miscreants not fully comprehending the repercussions of their acts. One such act is shooting laser lights at air ambulance pilots. Recently, a Wiltshire air ambulance pilot was subject to one such prank that left him temporarily unable to see and the landing had to be aborted. Just imagine being pilot mid-air, in a situation where visibility is suddenly near-zero. Scary, isn’t it?
The Air Ambulance Pilot’s Family is Scared for His Life
The wife of the air ambulance pilot has appealed to people through a video that was posted on one of her social media channels. The woman breaks into tears as she appeals to people to refrain from shooting laser beams at pilots. The pilot is also a father of twin girls. His wife conveyed through her heart-wrenching video message that she loves her husband very much and hopes to see him walking his daughters down the aisle someday.
She Called to Ban Laser Lights
Laser lights can travel up to 50 miles. This humongous range brings almost all aerial vehicles within its range. It is hard to understand why such a tool must be put in the hands of the public. Laser lights are quite affordable and can be bought for as little as a few dollars. The woman has appealed to the government to pass rules that prohibit the sale of this item.
The pilot in question was on a training mission when the incident occurred. However, had it occurred during a live mission, it would have to be aborted putting the patient’s life at risk owing to delayed treatment.
The air ambulance charities in the United Kingdom are no strangers to celebrity endorsements, Prince William being of the most noticeable among them. However, recently, the industry has found a new patron and that is none other than Gordon Ramsey of the Hell’s Kitchen fame. The celebrity chef has quite a fan following owing to his fiery on-screen critique of various cuisines and cooks. He is also quite popular for his Twitter outreach where he grades food of common people who come to him for validation. His quirky replies are quite a hit in the online community. A celebrity with outreach like this can do loads of good for air ambulance charities.
Cornwall Air Ambulance has Been Gordon’s Choice
It is reported that Gordon Ramsey and his wife have recently spent quite some time in the Cornwall area. During their stay, they have come to realize the important roles that air ambulance charities play to maintain public health. It has this realization that has pushed the couple to help the industry. The organization attends to about 800 incidents, which puts the number to over 2 incidents per day and that is quite commendable.
The Endorsement is Much Needed
Most of the air ambulance charities have been struggling to stay afloat in recent times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the United Kingdom, where most air ambulance organizations are charity-based, funding is dependent on community efforts. However, with the highly infectious pandemic gripping the nation, charitable activities have been hard to organize. In this situation, a celebrity like Gordon Ramsey can do a lot of good.
Speaking about his decision, Gordon said, “Cornwall has been our family home now for five years and we have always been totally in awe of the lifesaving work we see the Cornwall Air Ambulance do every day.”
It is believed that the medical flights will be in great demand for most part of the next two decades and will grow at a rate of 9.3%. In the past year, the industry grew to US$ 4,524.7 million. Those are some robust numbers and not the kind we commonly see in the prevailing economy. What are the driving factors behind these trends? It is certainly not the affordability of the people as evident by the growing concerns surrounding the balance bills that never fail to make the headlines. It is the medical need that is driving the air ambulance industry. Here are some sharp insights.
Medical Flights and Diabetes
Perhaps the most common lifestyle disease that prevails today is diabetes. While there is nothing that cries emergency about diabetes, it is a cause for more serious ailments. People with diabetes are known to eventually develop serious heart and kidney conditions, which give rise to life-threatening emergencies. This is where medical flights come into picture. With the US fighting obesity and diabetes (as a consequence), the market is set on an upswing. In fact, currently, there are about 463 million diabetics in the country, and it is projected to reach 700 million in the next 25 years.
Medical Flights and Drug-Related Emergencies
The illicit drug menace has bothered the country for long. Today, it is believed drugs are among the biggest killers when it comes to people under the age of 50. A lot of times, these give rise to serious and unexpected medical emergencies ranging from overdose to motor vehicle accidents. Medical flights are the only recourse in most cases.
Medical Flights and Rural Hospitals
It is a known fact that rural hospitals have been closing down at a rapid rate in the country, and the trend has been up since a decade now. Medical flights are the only way out for the residents of such areas.
In a way, the market for medical flights is a reflection of how healthy the society is.
The air ambulance industry has been in the headlines for quite some time now. Most recently, however, it was because the state of Wyoming was attempting to regulate it. The hurdle was (and is) a federal regulation that prohibits state governments from interfering in the affairs of air ambulance industry. However, the attempts were rejected by CMS. Wyoming had proposed that the states must be allowed a say in the matters of air ambulance industry. It had done so to keep the cost of medical flight services at bay as they have been getting steeply expensive recently.
Does this Mean the Air Ambulance Industry has Won?
The answer is “yes.” At least for now, the air ambulance industry seems to have won. The CMS verdict favors the medical flight service providers. They will not be subjected to any state control and will be free to fly across state borders and also charge the consumers what they feel is the right amount.
The industry had feared that if they are forced to come under insurance networks, they will then have to conform to the reimbursement rates that are set by the insurance organizations. This was especially worrying since the rates have not been revised in over a decade. Moreover, since bidding system to offer services for a particular state would have come into picture, there were high chances that some insurance companies would have gone out of business.
What does it Mean for Consumers?
Consumers will now have access to a wide range of air ambulance companies. This means they will be able to avail specialized medical flights during emergencies. Since the profitability will remain unchanged, the air ambulance industry would find it financially encouraging extending their reach to remotest parts of the country. There, however, is one drawback. Since insurance companies have not still revised their reimbursement rates, the consumers are at risk of high out-of-pocket expenses.
A recent survey has shown that medical flight services are now more open to insurance network participation. In fact, the numbers have gone up by a healthy 20%. It has also been seen that the medical flight services and insurance companies are holding intense discussions and negotiations surrounding in-network arrangements.
The reason behind this change has been the huge increase in consumer demand and also to steer clear of the negative publicity that both the industries have been subject to in recent times. The efforts by the state governments to regulate air ambulance pricing and also getting insurance companies onboard with their cost-controlling measures have seen a lot of backlash recently.
The Medical Flight Services and their Cost Compulsions
The refusal of the insurance companies to take cognizance of the fact that maintaining medical flight services is an expensive affair – some say – was the cause of all the misunderstanding. Air ambulance companies usually spend a fortune to remain on standby for emergencies. The cost, of course, is then transferred to their services. When insurance companies refuse to foot these costs, the burden unfortunately is transferred to the patients who avail the service. This is a practice that is popular as ‘balance billing’.
How In-Network Coverage Helps
Customers are able to enjoy discounted and ‘fair’ out-of-pocket expenses to cover medical flight services when in-network coverage becomes a reality. In an ideal world, all air ambulance services providers must be in-network. However, the onus of it does not lie only on these emergency service providers. The insurance organizations too must be willing to reimburse a fair amount. Otherwise, it simply does not make business sense for medical flight services to join any network.
The good news, however, seems to be that both these industries are coming around and finding common grounds to work together.