Medical flight membership programs have always been around, although not many have been very popular. Now, with the regulations surrounding surprise medical bills, medical flight service providers are thinking of new ways to stay afloat. Will this mean that membership programs will be redesigned by most of them? It is a question that has remained unanswered, but something that the industry must look at closely.
The disconnect between medical flight service providers has been that they do not honor each other’s memberships. This leaves the members with limited options, wherein they are confined to availing services only from a few medical flight services. In emergencies, they may end up hiring any air ambulance service.
Will the Medical Flight Service Providers Come Together?
This is a big question that has remained unanswered so far. However, the medical flight industry has much to gain if this becomes a reality. Imagine how convenient it would be if one membership would cover all the medical flight services across the country and even across borders. Members simply would not have to worry about the cost. All they would need to do is pay an annual membership fee and the whole family would be covered.
Will Memberships Continue to Remain Popular?
It is likely that medical flight membership programs will gain in popularity. This will be the case even if there is an end to surprise billing. The reason is this: non-emergency medical flight services may still demand out-of-pocket payments. Having a membership can negate this issue. It is for this reason that medical flight memberships will continue to retain their utility. Plus, with the pandemic still not under control, air ambulances can come in handy, especially if it involves flying huge distances for appropriate treatment. The one factor that will continue to retain focus is the acceptability of memberships across service providers.
Technology has taken over almost all parts of our daily lives today, so it is no surprise that the air ambulance industry is evolving technologically. However, most of the changes have been focussing on making the flights safer and the equipment more effective. What about the information that the air ambulance crew handles every day? There has not been significant progress in this realm. Most of the information is exchanged via paper even today. It must be pointed out that some of the information is shared electronically, but there is a problem. The information sharing is mostly scattered and there is no one-stop solution to it as of now.
Electronic Flight Bags can Transform Air Ambulance Functioning
From standard operating procedures to weather forecasts, there is a sea of information that the crew needs to be aware of during each flight. Wouldn’t it be great if all the relevant information is found under one umbrella? Electronic flight bags can do the trick. A well-connected device that brings all the information under a dashboard is the ideal solution. The information needs to be dynamic as factors such as weather can change constantly. The ecosystem can be interconnected to several sources through a centralized data cloud.
What are the Limitations?
The air ambulance industry is highly regulated. Therefore, the electronic flight bag system would need approval from the relevant authorities and will need to remain in compliance. Then, there is the issue of connectivity. Without continuous connectivity, no cloud system works efficiently. With the air ambulance services often operating in remote areas, wireless internet connectivity can be an issue. Also, uniformity in sharing the data needs to be there so that all the systems involved speak to each other in a common language to avoid misinterpretation, duplication, or omission of critical data.
Despite all the limitations, it is hoped that the air ambulance industry will overcome them in the interest of smoother and more efficient operations.
The COVID-19 situation has caused a lot of problems throughout the country. The treatment expenses sometimes are very huge and the need for treatment highly urgent. A family from Central Florida was in one such situation. A family member had contracted the COVID-19 infection and was on a ventilator. The hospital that he was being treated had conveyed to the family that the patient needed to be transported to a more appropriate facility. The family had then contacted a medical flight company to transport the patient. The cost of the flight was going to be over USD 16,000 and the medical flight company had helped the family set up a GoFundMe page.
The Medical Flight Service was Not Availed by the Family
There are two versions that are currently going around. The family, on its part, revealed that they had canceled the medical flight due to certain apprehensions and the constant demand from the medical flight company for funds. They had arranged for another air ambulance service and had conveyed it to the first company. However, they later found that about USD 8,000 was withdrawn from the fund by the medical flight company.
The Version of the Medical Flight Company
The medical flight company said that the family was insisting that the patient be transported despite the treating physician not giving permission to do so. For this reason, the flight had to be rescheduled. Further, this had gone on for quite a few days. They revealed that, ultimately, they had got a text message that they no longer needed the medical flight service and the patient’s family had stopped responding to their attempts at communication. In fact, the air ambulance company had already arrived, ready to transport the patient when the cancellation was conveyed through the text message. Due to this, the air ambulance company had charged the family USD 8,000.
Customization has been a need of the air ambulance industry for a long time now. The customizations, however, have been mainly aimed at internal modifications to make maximum utilization of space. Another set of redesigns have come in the form of changes to the medical equipment with the objective of making them lighter and compact. As a result, the air ambulance vehicles that we see today are equipped with medical gadgets that can put regular intensive care units to shame. However, the industry is demanding even more, and rightly so. Offering premium services is what the air ambulance industry has strived for.
Air Ambulance Design Basics Need Change
The aircraft industry is highly evolved today and is looking to implement innovations. It is now looking at the air ambulance industry to spread its market reach further. It is a win-win situation for both industries.
For the aircraft manufacturing industry, it is a chance to widen its market as the traditional markets have seen a sharp slump in recent times. The COVID-19 situation has only worsened the existing situation. On the other hand, the air ambulance industry has had its own design demands.
What does the Air Ambulance Industry Need?
Efficiency when it comes to space is perhaps the biggest demand of the air ambulance industry. To make a true difference, medical flight designs need a fundamental change in design. The aircraft need to be lighter, yet more space-efficient.
Another requirement is maneuverability. The design needs to be such that an air ambulance must be able to land and take off amid heavy traffic. The ability to reach tough terrains is another requirement.
When achieving all this, the aircraft needs to be silent enough so that the patients are offered a comfortable flight. It is heartening to see that innovations in this space today are moving in the right direction.
Although the congressional bill that seeks to ban surprise billing is not limited to the medical flight industry, much has been made out about it. The bill will span the entire medical industry including doctors and medical service providers. Since the bill is Federal, it will apply to the medical flight industry too. However, this long-drawn bill was seen as a battleground with insurance providers on one side and the rest of the medical fraternity on the other. Who won the battle? This was the question that most people were asking at the end of it all.
It was a Balanced Bill with No Defeats
The main source of contention was the fixing of prices for various medical services. The insurance industry was bent on fixing it according to their prevailing rates, which, frankly, were outdated. On the other hand, the medical fraternity, including the air ambulance industry, wanted the government to consider its price list. However, it was widely believed that the list consisted of highly inflated prices. Realistically, it was never expected to be accepted even by those who were advocating it. The congressional bill has skilfully navigated between the industries to ensure that all involved parties get a fair deal.
Medical Flight Services Get the Option for Arbitration
The dispute about medical flight bills has always been between the insurance and the air ambulance industry. However, common citizens have borne the brunt of it. Now, however, the bill will introduce a mechanism for arbitration between the two parties so that they can sort it between themselves and leave the patients out of it. This will ensure that no patient gets a surprise medical flight bill even if the provider is out of network. The bill goes on to suggest protection for those without insurance too, in case of health emergencies. The way forward, it seems, is coming to a consensus for both industries.
The air ambulance industry, for the most part, had been opposed to the recently passed bill by Congress that seeks to put an end to surprise billing practices. The state governments in the United States have been on a long and hard-fought quest to curb surprise billing practices. However, since the air ambulance industry is protected by federal law, states were helpless in controlling their billing practices. This fact has now changed and brought along new challenges for the air ambulance industry. Most of the players in the medical flight industry are private-equity based and have largely remained out of insurance networks. The new bill can hit them hard.
Effect on the Air Ambulance Industry
Maintaining air ambulance services is no small task. From maintaining the aircraft and hangars to paying off highly experienced and qualified personnel, the costs are high. So far, the costs were covered well as the discretion to bill their services had no curbs. Now, with the new bill, the air ambulance companies will have to make do with what the insurance companies approve. Failing to agree on the pricing will only lead them to an arbitrator whose decision will be final.
What Can the Air Ambulance Industry do?
It goes without saying that profits will dwindle down. However, as most air ambulance companies have already begun doing, it makes sense to join insurance networks. This will ease the payment process. Also, it is time that the industry looks at quality services wherein patients voluntarily opt for their services, even if it means that they will need to pay an out-of-pocket premium. The air ambulance industry now needs to veer its attention towards brand building activities. In this context, it must be noted that the service providers are still not compelled to limit their bills. The only change is that patients will no longer be liable to pay balance bills unless they opt to do so.
A bill concerning the surprise billing practices of the medical flight industry might bring a solution soon. The insurance companies and the medical flight industry have been in the midst of a heavily fought battle around this. Both parties have time and again blamed each other for the high air ambulance bills that patients receive. Such developments have also resulted in bad press for both the players. However, bringing the air ambulance industry to compromise on its billing practices has so far seemed impossible. This is mainly because the states have little control over them and the Federal Government has been sitting over it for quite some time.
The COVID-19 Situation and the Medical Flight Bill
The COVID-19 pandemic had definitely delayed the passage of any bill related to surprise billing practices of the medical flight industry. However, it now seems that it may be passed along with the COVID-19 relief bill. Politicians have intervened to get both parties to find a middle ground, but it has largely been unsuccessful. Both the industries have not budged from their stand but it must be noted that most medical flight service providers have tried to get into insurance networks in recent times.
What Will the Bill Do?
The Federal bill will prohibit medical flight service providers from charging the patients directly for their services in the event that they are out of the patient’s insurance network. This is mainly being done as any patient, during critical times, has no time to contemplate the choices. On the question as to what would happen when a patient wilfully chooses an out-of-network medical flight, he or she might have to pay out of pocket, but there are restrictions. The medical flight service provider can only charge the patient if the patient is given 72 hours to analyze the costs. The patient’s consent to use the services in such instances is also important. If the bill goes through, it could change the landscape of the medical flight industry.
Medical flight maintenance is a systematic process and is guided by the industry best practices and rules that govern the air ambulance industry itself. Then, there is a multitude of aircraft models that demand the maintenance of different degrees. The main difference is rotor-wing and fixed-wing medical flight vehicles. The rotor-wing medical flight services are usually deployed in hard-to-reach situations like rescuing a stranded adventure seeker or a victim of a motor vehicle accident on the highways. The fixed-wing medical flight services, on the other hand, come in handy in long haul flights were the patients need to be carried for hundreds or even a thousand miles. Most medical flight companies maintain a mix of both.
Each Medical Flight Demands a Different Kind of Maintenance
Bell, Airbus, Hawker Jets, King Airs, Cessnas, Lear Jets – the list of aircraft that medical flight service providers maintain is quite huge and each comes with a different need. On top of that, there is a myriad of medical equipment that goes into each of these medical flights such as ventilators, intravenous fluid infusion equipment, ventilators, oxygen cylinders, defibrillators, and many more. Added to this is the decontamination and sanitization protocol over the existing ones due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All this translates to a huge amount of maintenance.
Allied Maintenance is Also a Factor
The hangars, training, and accreditations are just a few of the allied maintenances that come along with medical flight services. Each aspect demands specialized skills. In addition, emergency professionals need to be trained on an ongoing basis to keep up with the latest development in the industry.
All these aspects lead to better care and improved outcomes; however, they come at a cost. This is one of the reasons why medical flight charges are pretty steep, and without insurance, affording such care can be quite difficult.
Medical air transport is going to play a crucial role in the days to come as we had predicted earlier. For instance, the doctors in certain rural parts of the United States are predicting a surge in patient intake due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An unsustainable demand for quality medical care is on the horizon. The country today is witnessing a record-breaking increase in infections, and they are not limited to the urban parts of the country. Medical air transport is slated to be of extreme importance to offer patients the care they truly deserve. The industry too seems prepared for this second surge of infections.
Medical Air Transport Industry is Prepared
We know much more about the COVID-19 infection today. Complications that require ventilator support and even lung transplant in some instances have been factored in. The medical air transport vehicles today are equipped to handle such complications. More importantly, medical experts have now gained enough knowledge that they know patients might even need to be sedated throughout the journey, and they are ready for eventualities like these. Such need arises due to the agony that the infection causes in some serious cases.
The Number of Emergency Calls Has Gone Up
During the first wave of infections, people were not very keen on venturing out. However, due to the persistence of the pandemic, it is now economically impossible for people to stay away from their jobs. This has led to an increased number of people getting out of their homes and consequently, there is an increase in road accidents, etc, which demand the services of the medical air transport industry. The fact coupled with the increased number of infections and the shortage of appropriate medical facilities in rural communities has led to an unprecedented demand for air ambulances. The only solace in this scenario is the preparedness of the medical air transport industry, which is very high.
Innovations in the medical flight industry are exciting, to say the least. The penchant for doing something new is always is never missing. The industry is known to encourage innovations that make medical flights more efficient, safe, and cheap. Treading this exact line is the newest innovation that stems from Australia. Capable of carrying four passengers at one go, this new medical flight can zoom at speeds of 186 miles per hour but that fact is not what makes it so special. This scientific wonder can fly a distance of 155 miles on battery. If you felt that was an impressive distance, digest this: it can go up to 500 miles on a hydrogen power train. Impressive, isn’t it?
The Uniqueness of the Medical Flight
Fitted with a total of eight propellers, the medical flight is capable of vertical takeoff and is considered to be safer than traditional helicopters. Made of carbon fiber for lightweight as well as sturdiness, the innovation is capable of transforming the medical flight industry. The company which makes this aerial vehicle, AMSL Aero, is developing it in conjunction with CareFlight to cater to the industry. Along with its high energy efficiency, it also produces less noise, which means patients will be more comfortable traveling in it.
The Cost is Much Lesser
It is believed that maintaining and running this medical flight will cost as little as a car in the future. Moreover, it can be flown with or without a pilot. Once in the market, the air ambulance will be the answer to healthcare access for rural communities, which are currently facing a shortage of hospitals and depend on medical flights for access to appropriate medical care in the urban areas. Moreover, it has other applications too. It can be deployed to put out the forest fires that are such a problem the world over today.