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.
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.
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.”
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.
Disinfecting the air ambulance has become one of the topmost concerns for the industry today. The problems that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth are unprecedented. It is, therefore, no surprise that air ambulance companies are grappling to find an effective protocol that can be followed. When one refers to safety, it’s all-inclusive today – from the crew members to the patients. Here are some steps that are highly recommended.
Follow a Consistent Air Ambulance Disinfection Protocol
The Centers for Disease Control in the United States recommends that air ambulance companies follow a consistent protocol. The basic rule is to ensure adequate ventilation during the cleaning process, especially when using chemical disinfectants. The aircraft doors should remain open during this process.
Wearing Personal Protective Equipment is Necessary
Donning personal protective equipment or PPE is very important. Keep in mind that the Coronavirus can remain on surfaces for hours. You do not want to contract the infection by coming in direct contact with it during the cleaning process. Discard the PPE right after the cleaning process is complete.
Adequate Ventilation is Very Important
It is hard to provide ventilation when an air ambulance has taken off. However, an adequate inlet of light is helpful. When the air ambulance is not in use, care must be taken to allow adequate airflow too. This is particularly helpful in getting rid of airborne infections like the COVID-19.
Using Appropriate Disinfectants is Absolutely Vital
Bleach is very widely used as a disinfectant but can give rise to noxious fumes. A detergent-based disinfectant is most effective. This is because the Coronavirus is covered by a layer of fat and soaps are known to dissolve fat instantly. The process instantly kills COVID-19.
Disposal of Soiled Linens
It is highly recommended that the soiled linen is not shaken in any way and is disposed of in a careful manner so that any infection-causing virus is not transferred to the surrounding surface.
It is imperative that the guidelines laid down by agencies like the CDC are followed meticulously. There is no substitute for these life-saving guidelines.
The phenomenon, widely known as surprise billing, has troubled the United States for quite some time. It has been highlighted from time to time and fingers have been pointed at the insurance companies. The air ambulance industry is the only exception where it is being blamed for the excess bills that people are compelled to foot. Why so? The answer is obvious: the size of the bills is so big that it often makes headlines. In this context, the pertinent question to ask is this: is surprise billing a problem that is limited to the air ambulance industry? The answer is a resounding ‘no’.
Air Ambulance Services and the Concept of Insurance Network
Imagine a situation where you have to get checked for a potential disease that can be life-threatening. You take care to ensure that you choose a hospital that is within your insurance network. You are referred to a specialist and a few lab tests are ordered. A week later, you come to know that the specialist and the lab tests are not within the insurance network and you are expected to pay off the bills all by yourself. It seems like a no-win situation, right?
Whose Responsibility is to Verify Insurance Network?
It is unrealistic to expect the patients, who often are in emergencies, to verify network coverage before availing treatment. The responsibility must, therefore, be jointly shared by the service providers and the insurance companies. At present, that is not the case. This is the precise reason why surprise billing is so prevalent. In the case of air ambulance services, this amount is usually pretty steep, driving families towards bankruptcy. The blame ultimately is pinned on the air ambulance industry, which is not entirely fair. However, it must be noted that the medical flight industry is loosely regulated when it comes to billing practices and must be scrutinized too.
Congress has been focussing heavily on eliminating surprise billing practices and involves not just the air ambulance industry but the healthcare landscape as a whole in the United States. In this regard, one significant development has been the introduction of the Consumer Protection Against Surprise Medical Billing Act. The Act is currently slated to enter the United States House of Representatives for a vote. Thus far, the billing practices of the industry have found protection under the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, which precludes the states from interfering in the matters of medical flight billing.
The New Bill and Air Ambulance Billing
The most important provision of the bill is that it will protect all the patients against balance billing practices even if the service provider is out-of-network of the insurance company. The patients will only be charged according to the in-network charges, which obviously will be covered by their insurance.
Explanation of benefits in advance is another important provision. Currently, the patients have no say in opting for air ambulance services during emergencies. The healthcare provider would take the call during the emergency, and the patient would not have a say. This will change with the introduction of the new bill, allowing the patient to make an informed decision.
If the new bill is successful, the air ambulance service providers would be compelled to give cost estimates before providing the services to the patient. In essence, the patient will be able to make a prudent financial decision if he or she is paying by cash or is uninsured.
A mediated process for resolution of the dispute would be put in place. Any party involved including the air ambulance company would be free to dispute any part of the payment through a mediated process. There would be a window of 30 days to find a resolution.
In January 2019, a deadly air ambulance crash had killed the entire crew. The cause of the crash was harsh weather conditions. It has now been reported that the crash was due to lax safety procedures in place. The service provider in question is Survival Flight. The report comes from the federal investigators who have been looking into the cause of the air ambulance crash. The National Transportation Safety Board has alleged that the company had inadequately managed safety. Moreover, the service provider had not conducted adequate risk analysis before taking up the flight.
The Air Ambulance had Crashed in South Eastern Ohio
It is believed that, at least, two air ambulance service providers had refused to carry the patient who was in an emergency health condition. The cause was poor weather conditions marked by heavy snowing and consequent poor visibility. It is believed that the inclement weather condition was the primary reason for the crash. The medical flight had crashed into the heavily wooded hillside and had broken into several pieces. The pilot Jennifer Topper and crew members Rachel Cunningham and Bradley Haynes were instantly killed. They were 34, 33, and 48 years old respectively.
Was the Flight Undertaken by Flouting Rules?
It must be understood that it is not illegal to fly an air ambulance when it is snowing lightly; however, it is not authorized to fly when the visibility is poor due to heavy snowing, which inhibits the pilot from having a clear view of the ground. Besides, there is a risk of air ambulance freezing. It is believed that, in this case, the poor visibility had led the pilot to undertake some abrupt maneuvers and had resulted in the crash. The incident stands evidence to the fact that some service providers flout the rules in the interest of either helping the patients or making the ends meet.