Vertical takeoff and landing is perhaps the most important feature for any air ambulance that operates in urban areas. The reason for this are several and range from the lack of landing space to heavy traffic. Air ambulance helicopters do a pretty good job at this; however, they are not always suited for the job due to the huge rotors. What one needs is a compact air ambulance that is capable of vertical takeoff and landing while being able to accommodate enough patients, medical staff as well as medical equipment. In a recent development, this seems like a reality.
A US Company Partners with an Israeli Aeronautical Company
A New York-based company called Hatzolah Air has got into an agreement with Urban Aeronautics, which is an Israeli company. According to reports, the aeronautical company is in possession of a former military prototype, now approved for civilian use. The uniqueness of this design lies in its internal rotors. The company, it is reported, has already completed over 300 flights successfully thus far. The New York-based company will call its air ambulance CityHawk once it is completed according to its spokesperson. It would be capable of landing right in the midst of busy traffic without too much disruption and be able to evacuate patients effortlessly.
The Air Ambulance Vehicle will be Quite Sizeable
The air ambulance will be capable of carrying two emergency medical service personnel, a pilot, a patient, a companion for the patient, and all the necessary medical equipment. Considering that the vehicle would be much smaller than the traditional helicopters, this is quite an impressive feat. It is estimated that the current market for this type of air ambulance would be about 800, which is pretty good. The development of the air ambulance and procurement of certification from the FAA is expected to take anywhere between 3 to 5 years.
Imagine taking off in an air ambulance but without a pilot! Seems like a scene from a science fiction movie, right? Well, not anymore. The technology is already a reality, and now, the efforts are on to make it more widely available. The International Civil Aviation Organization has set out on an ambitious project that will soon see our skies fill with autonomous air ambulance vehicles. The fact that these will be “electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles” makes the entire prospect even more exciting. In this context, it must be noted that it will be cheaper and more eco-friendly than its yesteryear counterparts.
EHang Air Ambulance is Leading the Way
EHang is a Nasdaq-listed company that has pioneered the autonomous air ambulance vehicle industry. The company finds it origin in China where it has already been deployed during the COVID-19 crisis. Imagine being able to control the air ambulance from the ground. There would not be a need to have the entire crew on board, thus minimizing the risk of contracting the infection. Plus, these compact air ambulance vehicles can easily land and take off without the need for a lot of space. EHang will be the guiding force of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s project and is expected to share its technical and operational expertise in the arena.
EHang has found great success in its passenger grade aircraft that it calls the EHang 216. It is a two-seater that is ideal for transporting patients and medical supplies to reasonably short distances. It must be noted that international repatriations will still be something that the traditional air ambulance vehicles will have to undertake. It is noteworthy that most air ambulance evacuations are domestic and involve motor vehicle accidents and medical emergencies due to underlying chronic diseases. It would not be an overstatement to say that autonomous air ambulances are all set to change we handle medical emergencies in the days to come.
ECMO or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine is a device that takes over some of the functions of the heart and lungs, thus providing the much-needed rest for both these vital organs. It has been seen that a malfunction of lungs is a major cause of COVID-19 fatalities. At times, patients have needed a lung transplant to stay alive. A South Korean woman aged 56 years was in a similar situation recently and was fighting for her life in Mexico. She had developed pulmonary fibrosis due to the underlying COVID-19 infection. The only way to survive was a lung transplant.
Air Ambulance to the Patient’s Rescue
Lung transplant is a major medical procedure, and naturally, the Korean woman and her family wanted to get it done in their own country. South Korea enjoys a robust healthcare system just like the United States. Moreover, it is always better to undergo a major procedure surrounded by people that one is familiar with. However, there was one problem. The woman had to be flow in this critical condition for an extended period. This is when the ECMO machine came into the picture. The air ambulance used was literally an ICU with this equipment.
The Air Ambulance Creates a Record in the Process
The US-based air ambulance Jet Rescue was tasked with this challenge. After extensive consultation with medical experts, it was deemed that the risk was worth taking to save the woman’s life. A Learjet-36 was chosen for the task. The journey was chalked out by scheduling periodic stops for oxygen and fuel refills. The air ambulance finally took off and successfully transported the patient to South Korea. During the process, the air ambulance company made a record. It now holds the distinction of being the longest medical flight with an ECMO machine onboard. The feat is quite an encouragement as this equipment can prove life-saving for patients with COVID-19 infection.
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.
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.
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.
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.