With rural hospitals in the United States closing down at an alarming rate, telemedicine is among the tools, along with air ambulance services, that is filling the void. Imagine a possibility where telemedicine is made available in medical flights. It would have a lasting impact on efficiency, quality of care and also costs. In this guide, we discuss the various possibilities in some detail.
Doctors Take Cubicles for Air Ambulance Services
Telemedicine essentially is an internet-enabled concept where the doctor in front of a computer relays real-time information through video conferencing. Of course, there needs to be a medical professional on the other end too, so that the physician’s instructions are followed correctly. An emerging trend today is telemedicine centers where tens of physicians behind cubicles offer remote healthcare services. This is especially helpful for people residing in rural parts of the United States where getting adequate medical help on time can be a real challenge.
Not All Emergencies can be Handled Online
Of course, there are going to be situations where personal medical attention becomes imperative, and if the situation is serious, it can demand air ambulance services. What if the patient is critical and the paramedic onboard needs expert medical advice? It is in situations like these that telemedicine can help air ambulance services. With professionals practicing a wide range of specialties, it becomes easy to get the right help at the right time for air ambulance companies.
A Tie up is Necessary
Today, there exist several telemedicine businesses that hire tens of doctors. However, there is a gap and that is collaboration between telemedicine industry and air ambulance services. Such a move will enhance patient care while cutting costs as air ambulance companies can do away with having physicians at the site all the time. It can be a pay-per-service model. Moreover, the medical flight service would have instant access to an array of medical specialties.
Most air ambulance rescues are enabled by helicopters and the sound that they generate can be a huge hindrance for communication. Working around this problem is vital to keep the communication ongoing between crew members and also to maintain the efficacy of it. Active noise cancellation is one such technology that has brought about a paradigm change in the air ambulance industry. It simply does away with unwanted noise and makes the communication clearer. Helmets have now become a playground for newer technologies. However, while employing technology to make communication seamless, the weight of the helmets can be a concern.
Air Ambulance Rescue Helmets
Ergonomics and weight of helmets have become as important as the communication systems that they host. With all the technology, care must be taken to ensure that they do not hinder the rescue efforts.
Most helmets are connected to the helicopter intercom systems so that they can hear what is going on at any given point. Radios also play a major role here as communication with the ground team is also vital. Most helmets have a built-in radio receivers and speakers too but switching between the two can sometimes be a challenge. This is where customization comes into picture.
Customization of Air Ambulance Crew Communication Devices
There are several companies out there that churn out customized communication devices. Air ambulance organizations can get exactly what they want through them. For instance, switching between radio equipment and intercom would be truly a seamless process. However, there are a few drawbacks.
The main con is the price. Customization comes at a premium and the trade off between the utility and the price can be skewed. The other factor is aftermarket service, which might be poor, unavailable or highly expensive. Plus compatibility with changing technology can turn out to be a headache.
Air ambulances must factor in all the elements discussed above to come up with the best possible communication solution.
Cost saving seems to be the concern of the air ambulance industry in recent times. While there are several resources like the hangar and quality maintenance that cannot be contained, there are certain aspects that technology can help with. Fuel efficiency and route mapping are among those. In fact, the two are closely connected to each other, especially when it comes to long-distance air ambulance evacuation. Let’s dive into the factors that affect the two and how technology can help the air ambulance industry in this regard.
Air Ambulance Industry and Fuel Efficiency
Contingency fuel itself can be a source of fuel wastage for the air ambulance industry. Wondering how? It’s a no brainer – lesser weight translates to lesser fuel. Contingency fuel is usually carried to meet any unforeseen circumstance that can compel medical flight to be on air for a longer period of time.
If there was a mechanism where any adverse conditions can be predicted beforehand, the need for contingency fuel can be negated completely or at least reduced to a huge extent. The approach would help greatly.
Another aspect is flight route. Often, air ambulances are compelled to change their flight path or flight at varying altitudes due to changing weather conditions. Actions like these accelerate the fuel burn pace. If this uncertainty can be taken away, route planning becomes more efficient where the medical flight need not be on air for longer times than necessary. Needless to say, this increases the fuel efficiency and as a consequence, cuts associated costs.
How Technology Helps
Satellite connectivity in real time can help to a huge extent to plan the routes, but this is nothing new to the air ambulance industry but connect analytical algorithms to weather data and you have something new. The combination brings to the table the ability to predict weather and plan routes even better.
Blockchain has been largely associated with cryptocurrencies but what a sizeable number of people do not know is that it has several applications, especially when it comes to security of data and operations. The air ambulance industry can benefit hugely from this technology. It is taking the world by a storm cutting across sectors today.
Cross border transactions, data security, and international regulatory compliance are just some of the areas that blockchain technology can prove of value. In a business world where digital transformation is making big waves, the air ambulance industry cannot afford to remain isolated today. It must actively look towards adopting this technology.
Blockchain makes Cross-Border Air Ambulance Transactions Seamless
Transactions usually take place through a centralized ledger. In other words, the monitoring of financial transactions is done from one central point. The nature of air ambulance business is contrary to this. It is dispersed and depending on one central point is often a hindrance.
Blockchain transforms this process through a decentralized ledger where an immutable record of every change made in the system is maintained. It is unchangeable and transparent. Every time even a small change is made to the ledger, it is immediately recorded. This gives a clear picture of who is responsible for what.
Data Security Made Easy
The inability to make any changes without recording who did it and not being able to change this ‘log’ later is blockchain technology’s biggest strength. Any sensitive data pertaining to business or patients simply cannot be stolen without being noticed. This feature acts as a deterrent to both internal and external parties. Unscrupulous elements would simply not attempt to steal or modify data for their advantage owing to the risk of being recognized.
Features like these and more make blockchain technology one that must be adopted by the air ambulance industry today.
In light of the recent developments where medical flights around the world were disrupted due to illegally flying drones, there are a few questions that beg to be asked: “Is flying drones legal in the United States?”, “If so, what are the rules and legislations that govern flying of drones?”. Once you are aware of facts such as these, it helps flying them within the legal bounds making it easier for medical flights to ply. It must be noted in this context that flying drones is perfectly legal in the United States, subject to certain restrictions, so much so that even foreigners can bring them into the country and fly them. The Federal Aviation Authority as well as National Aviation Authority allow them.
Rules that Govern Drones in the United States
Rules for flying drones recreationally:
- The reason for flying must only be recreational and there must be no business angle to it.
- Hobbyists must visit https://faadronezone.faa.gov/#/ and register the drone with Federal Aviation Authority
- The drones must never escape your line of vision as you fly them
- Only those drones which are under 55 lbs are permitted
- One must never be close to any aircraft
- Only flying in Class G airspace is allowed
- It is strictly prohibited to fly close to emergency response vehicles such as medical flights
Rules for flying drones commercially:
- The operator must hold a FAA-issued Remote Pilot Certification
- The drones must be registered with FAA just like recreational ones
- It must weight under 55 lbs
- The flight must not cross the speed of 100 miles per hour
- The drone must always remain below 400 feet so that they do not disturb medical flights and other aircrafts
- Any manned aerial vehicle must be given the right to way
- Flying directly over people is prohibited
- Flying a drone from a vehicle is only allowed in thinly populated regions
If these simple rules are taken care of, drone flying becomes a safe activity.
Connected vehicles are making big waves these days, especially cars. Medical flight services can be enhanced by leveraging this technology. Wondering how? Read on. Connected vehicles are based on the fact that data can be transmitted from one vehicle to a dashboard where the relayed electrical impulses can be translated into a language that is intelligible to human beings. The purpose is to take appropriate action based on the insights received. This communication is enabled through a combination of satellite connectivity, mobile phone towers, SIM cards, and sensors. Let’s take a look at the ecosystem of these tiny devices before we get into how they facilitate quick medical flight response.
Understanding Connected Devices
The sensor fitted in the vehicle, for instance a car, takes into account factors such as the geographic location of the vehicle, the speed, the extent of impact (in case of accidents), occupant health such as vital signs (through connected wearable devices),as well as the vibration, temperature, and sound of the vehicle. It constantly monitors and analyses these parameters. If one of them is off beyond a certain limit that is considered unsafe, it sets off an alert by leveraging mobile connectivity and satellites to a predefined location – for instance the nearest emergency response team.
How Connected Vehicles Help Better Medical Flight Response
For one, the call for help is immediate. Second, the call for help is accompanied by a wealth of data pertaining to the distance and exact location of the accident along with the occupants’ health-related data. This can be of immense help to the medical flight that is responding to the emergency. It can get onboard appropriate healthcare equipment as well as experts. Since the location is precise, reaching it becomes that much easier. It also helps them prepare the receiving facility well in advance. The result is invariably a better chance of survival.
The aviation sector – which air ambulance industry is a part of – is a huge contributor to CO2 emissions globally. In fact, about 2.5% of the global CO2 emission is attributed to the sector. Even more concerning is the fact that the impact of high-altitude emissions is twice as much when compared to ground-level emissions. Digital connectivity that provides an IP to each air ambulance can play a part in cutting down this carbon footprint. The technology, along with digital connectivity that generates and transmits data in real time, can make wonders. Let’s take a look how.
Better Air Ambulance Flight Planning
Turbulences owing to adverse weather conditions can cause a lot of fuel burn. They often necessitate emergency landings, change in altitudes, route deviations and so on. All of these actions cause fuel to burn at a higher rate. Imagine a situation where all this data is passed on to the air ambulance well in advance through a network of digital connections so that alternate flight routes can be mapped well in advance and seamlessly. It would also preclude the possibility of mid air mishaps and help in offering better service and comfort to patients onboard. Most importantly, it would bring down the costs related to fuel and also the associated CO2 emissions.
The Need to Carry Contingency Fuel
There is a direct correlation between the weight of an air ambulance and the fuel that is needed to carry it in the air. As a precautionary measure against unforeseen circumstances that can necessitate longer flight time, most air ambulance flights carry contingency fuel. This adds to the weight of the aircraft and in turn, burns more fuel. Data gleaned through connected devices and satellite imagery in real time can lift the veil off such uncertainties and lessen the need for contingency fuel.
Air ambulance services are usually viewed from a narrow lens. In other words, we associate medical flights with emergencies at a very granular level where individuals are rescued. We tend to ignore that they are a huge part of relief and rescue efforts at a government level across the globe. When natural calamities and manmade disasters are epic in proportion, air ambulances are the last hope for survival sometimes. Of course, they do not work in isolation and are a part of the bigger emergency response ecosystem. However, sharing of data, managing them securely and keeping the entire picture transparent and tamper-proof can be a challenge. This is something that blockchain technology can get right.
Blockchain Technology is More than Bitcoins
What most people fail to understand is that Bitcons or cryptocurrencies are just one application of blockchain technology. The real benefit is enablement of a system in which data flow is seamless, transparent and unchangeable. For large government organizations across the world, this is a huge plus because emergency situations are often soft targets for unscrupulous exploitation. Blockchain can keep make it virtually impossible for anyone to tamper with data and consequently the relief funds.
What is Blockchain Technology and How Can it Help Air Ambulance Services
We already know that blockchain brings to picture an immutable record of transactions. For air ambulance services, the biggest benefit is the trustworthy connection it brings to the emergency response ecosystem.
The answer to what the technology is all about: Blockchain is essentially a network that brings a large group together into a system where no change can be made in the dark. The only way to make a change is to make it apparent to the rest of the stakeholders in the network. Also, there is no going back to modify data. In all, this brings transparency to a group where the flow of information is truthful at all times.
Wearable technology can play a vital role in streamlining emergency services, especially when it comes to air ambulances. Imagine this situation: John is out on a mountaineering expedition with a small group of adventurers. Unfortunately for him, there is an avalanche and he is stuck neck deep under the snow. Injured, he is unable to move. The only thing that’s keeping him alive is the hope that air ambulances get to him soon, but he is not even in a position to make a call. Yet, it only takes 15 minutes for an air ambulance to be dispatched, and in the next 30, he is on an air ambulance. How was it all possible?
Wearable Devices Can Contact Air Ambulances
It sounds like science fiction that a simple watch or a device that you wear can actually call air ambulances during emergencies and that too without any intervention from you. How can a device so small be so intelligent? The answer: it is a mix of logic and technology. Here’s how it works – the wearable device continuously monitors the person wearing it. His vital signs such as his heart beat, breathing, temperature, etc, are monitored. When there is a drastic drop in any of the signs; for instance, heartbeat, the device requests the person wearing it to intervene. If he does not intervene, the device assumes that the person is in trouble and automatically sends a signal to emergency services for a response.
There is More to Wearable Technology
Let’s go back t John who is stuck under the snow. The biggest challenge facing air ambulances would be his location. Thanks to the device, it provides the precise location coordinates to the first responders. Not just that, it continuously sends across his vital signs so that they can gauge his health condition on an ongoing basis.
What makes the device so intelligent is a combination of sensors programmed to monitor the vital signs and its ability to communicate using mobile and cloud technology.
Several countries around the world have progressed much further than the United States when it comes to drones. Take for instance, the East African Nation, Rwanda. The country has been using drones in lieu of air ambulances to transport medical necessities during emergencies. Of course, these might not be as efficient as air ambulances yet, but the day is not far when drones would be much more useful. Rwanda is a country where roads are far from being ideal and drone technology is seen as a respite. Come to think of it, rural America too can benefit from this concept.
The Prevalence Gap between Air Ambulances and Drones in the US
The US skies are dotted with a lot of airplanes, which of course include air ambulances. The drones on the other hand can be a hindrance. In fact, there have been several instances where drones have proven to be a nuisance for air ambulances and commercial flights. The necessity, therefore, is for a regulation that strikes the right balance. Also, general drone enthusiasts should also proactively show more responsibility. The other area that needs a closer look is innovation in the field of medical drones where they can at least play the part of supplementing efforts of air ambulances.
The Government Encouragement for Medical Drones
The congress, at the present time, is in the process of considering a bipartisan legislature called Drone Backlog Reduction Act. The intent of this legislation is to encourage innovation and ensure safety of medical drones. Once that is achieved, it will become easier to get the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration to use medical drones more extensively. At the current time, the use of drone is also severely limited by the norms laid down by the Federal Aviation Administration. If all goes well, the people will benefit from innovations in medical drones immensely.