When it comes to communities funding air ambulance services, United Kingdom leads the way, and there is no doubt about it. It is the involvement of the locals that makes it happen. People are known to undertake several community efforts, no matter how small, to keep the medical flights funded. From marathons to selling cookies, people contribute in their own way through innovative fund-raising efforts. The question that such undertakings raise is this: does this method work across the board? The answer to this simple question, however, is quite complex and the success is dependent on several factors. Let’s take a look at some of them.
The Absence of Significant Private Air Ambulance Companies
In a country like the United States, there are several private players who do an exemplary job to provide air ambulance coverage. They span a wide network of rural areas with zero compromise on quality of transport. The problem, however, is the price that they charge. In the absence of adequate insurance coverage, they can turn out to be a huge challenge to pay off. Of course, there is the issue of network coverage and surprise billing that has got the country concerned lately. This is the prime factor that is pushing people to look at alternate means of funding air ambulance services.
Community Funding is Not Always Successful
The estimated cost of keeping air ambulance services floating runs over a million dollars. Even the most successful charitable medical flight services do not rely solely on community funding to satisfy this need. Governments and corporate organizations play an active role in their funding. Moreover, prominent personalities are known to raise awareness and extend support to raise awareness about the services. In the United States, however, such an ecosystem is completely missing. Unless there is a concerted effort to get it in, such efforts are bound to fail.
There has been much anticipation surrounding the new air ambulance bill that aims at curtailing surprise billing practices. However, experts opine that the draft leaves much to be desired for both parties – the payers and the air ambulance service providers. The feeling is that the lawmakers have tried to take a middle ground so as to not displease the air ambulance industry or the medical insurance industry.
From the insurance industry point of view, the fact that it suggests an in-network rate even for those medical flight service providers that are out of network seems like a big win. The provision is something that payers have wanted all along.
From the air ambulance industry point of view, the draft allows for arbitration if there is a dispute with regards to the billing. However, since this comes in the backdrop of a set rate, the industry is not too happy about it.
How is the Air Ambulance and the Wider Healthcare Industry taking it?
The American Hospitals Association has strongly opposed the draft. Their reasoning is that it harms the rural hospitals by limiting the access that patients currently have. The association went as far as saying it is a ‘windfall’ for the insurers ‘at the expense of’ community hospitals. American Association of Medical Colleges too has opposed the draft.
America’s Health Insurance Plans has displayed its dissatisfaction surrounding the provision for arbitration.
More about Arbitration
When it comes to air ambulance companies, arbitration will only be possible for amounts over $25,000. The industry is also expected to provide two years’ worth of data pertaining to costs. This data would be provided to US Transportation Secretary as well as HHS.
The air ambulance industry has been vocal in raising the concerns surrounding patient safety as well as closure of medical bases. They also pointed out that the current insurance payouts by Medicare and Medicaid do not cover even 40% of the costs.
There is no disputing the fact that the most important consideration when acquiring an air ambulance is the aircraft itself. However, once this is zeroed down upon, other considerations come into play. The prime among these factors is the interior of the aircraft. In this context, it must be borne in mind that aircraft manufacturing companies do not usually build one specifically for the air ambulance industry. They are designed for business. Once acquired, these aerial vehicles are then customized for medical transport. The following become the basic considerations for effective customization:
- Crew comfort
- Ease of access
- Ease of loading and unloading the patients
- Medical equipment accommodation
What Makes a Good Structure for Air Ambulance?
The entry, in other words, the cargo door, plays a vital role. The bigger this aspect is the better, as it facilitates easy on-boarding and off-boarding of patients. Cabin room is another factor that holds high importance. Since medical equipment needs to be kept handy during flights, cabin room matters. Plus, leaving just a little space for the patients and the crew is not advisable as it poses an operational challenge when the situation is critical.
Cabin floor is among the important factors. It is quite possible that the floor gets dirty during the course of patient care. Blood, bodily fluids, and even spillage of medicines are sometimes unavoidable. However, all these must be easily cleanable later as they can pose a health risk. Electrical outlets, high ceilings, fresh air distribution, low vibration, sound proofing are some of the other considerations.
While most of these factors can be customized post purchase, some aspects like low vibration and sound proofing are inherent features of an aircraft. More and more aircraft manufacturers these days are developing aerial vehicles that are meant specifically for the air ambulance industry. The change has come about due to the increasing demand.
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.
Spinal cord injuries unfortunately are among the most serious ones and can leave the patients in need of high level of medical care. Prolonged rehabilitation is almost always a requirement. However, getting to the hospital, especially if they are located a huge distance away, can be a challenge. This is where air ambulance services come into picture. Fixed wing air ambulances are best suited in the situation. They are quick, which means travel time is minimum and the patient does not have to go through hours of discomfort-filled travel. Moreover, the fixed wing air ambulances themselves are sans bumps, making it safe for the patient.
Air Ambulance and Patient Needs
Worsening of the current injury is a possibility during patient transport. The air ambulance must therefore have the right equipment and the right experts onboard to make this journey a smooth one. The care during the transit has a huge bearing on the ultimate outcome post recovery. Risks like pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis are high. The crew must be cognizant of this fact. Many patients who develop spinal complications also suffer from bladder and bowel disorders. It is something that the staff must be ready to handle.
Why Medical Flights are the Best Choice
Most air ambulance companies facilitate seamless coordination between the ground ambulances and the air ambulance itself. The transition becomes flawless and the patient is assured of good care. Moreover, the fixed wing air ambulances these days are nothing less than highly sophisticated intensive care units. This means that any complications that can potentially occur en route can be efficiently handled. The cost of the air ambulance can be a concern for people. However, by doing the right research and proper negotiation keeping the insurance provider in mind, the issue can be solved efficiently. In the end, what matters most is the full recovery of the patient.
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.
The huge air ambulance bills are a matter of concern no doubt for citizens of the United States. We present a few options through which this burden can be contained.
Community Partnership with Air Ambulance Companies
It was recently seen that Gulf Shores residents now have access to free air ambulance services. Thanks to the partnership between the county and a large medical flight service provider, they will not have to pay any balance bills going forward. It is an idea that is worth emulation for the rest of the country.
Individual Memberships for Air Ambulance Services
Almost all big air ambulance companies offer membership plans that insulate their customers from balance bills. However, not many people avail this as it is an addition to their medical insurance cost. More importantly, there are not many medical flight provider groups that come together and offer comprehensive coverage.
What can Air Ambulance Companies Do?
There is a part that air ambulance companies too can play. For instance, REVA which is an international air ambulance company recently has increased its affiliations with private insurance companies. This will, in turn, rid the users of the worry of air ambulance costs. Even other providers now are veering this way, and as the web of coverage increases, the end users will benefit hugely.
Federal Intervention is an Option
The federal government has the authority to regulate the air ambulance industry. However, there is stiff opposition to any such move as it lays a huge financial pressure on the industry. It is the move that most state governments like Wyoming are pushing for, but so far, the move has borne no fruits. It is also unlikely that this route is going to be effective in the future.
Any move that brings insurance providers as well as air ambulance industry together is bound to be a success. Unfortunately, however, this is not happening at the present.
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.
Recently a woman aboard a cruise ship called Norwegian Escape fell seriously ill. It went on to the extent that an air ambulance had to be called out. Lucky for her, the coast guard was reachable and quickly responded to the emergency by evacuating her. However, not all are as fortunate as this woman to find help when it is needed most while cruising through a fun vacation in high seas.
Often, while in international waters, with different national borders in place, the logistical problem can turn out to be a nightmare. The cost too can be quite high as evacuation is rather tough and involves huge distances. Insurance coverage is therefore of paramount importance.
Ask About Air Ambulance Coverage Beforehand
Not all travel insurance policies will cover air ambulance evacuation and you might have to shell out a huge amount for this purpose. There have been instances where people have even turned to crowd funding to pay air ambulance bills. The wisest thing, therefore, is to opt for a travel insurance that has comprehensive medical flight evacuation coverage. Moreover, you would not want to be treated in a foreign country if the treatment duration is long. Getting back to your home country among your loved ones would be among your top priorities.
Your Options without an Air Ambulance Coverage
If you have deep pockets, of course, there is absolutely nothing to worry but if you do not, it can be a problem. Minor ailments like broken bones, fever, and food poisoning is cared for onboard the cruise as each one hosts medical professionals. However, if the health condition is severe, the ship simply has to wait for the nearest port and admit you there. It would then leave with the remaining passengers once you are assured appropriate medical care. Sounds a little scary? That’s precisely the reason you need comprehensive air ambulance coverage.
Air ambulance evacuations can throw situations at crew members that they are not always prepared for. It is simply the nature of the job. It is impossible to imagine all kinds of situations one might encounter. It is therefore necessary to have a coordination mechanism in place where help can be sought with minimum wastage of time. The coordination could be between ground ambulances, treating or receiving facilities and even cross-nation institutions. At times, it becomes necessary to coordinate between legal teams when the evacuation involves getting a patient from overseas locations. It is vital that one chooses an air ambulance company that is well experienced, in the interest of fluidity in evacuation.
International Air Ambulance Repatriations are Especially Hard
Rules and legislations differ from country to country. You never know what bureaucratic red tape is flung at the crew without forewarning. In cases like these, it is vital that the air ambulance company has a lawyer handy. You would need someone who is well versed in local laws as well as international ones. Failure to procure help in time can lead to legal troubles and unnecessary delay which can prove to be detrimental t the health of the patient.
Coordination with Ground and Hospital Crews
The ground crew does not always belong to the same organization as the air ambulance. Also, the crew usually has to deal with a different ground ambulance organization with each evacuation. Many times, it is their first time dealing with a ground ambulance crew and their organizational rules might be different. The medical fight crew needs to understand their functioning well in advance for smooth transition.
The same goes with the hospital teams too. It is therefore advisable to establish common grounds in advance. It is because of situations like these that most well-organized medical flight companies employ a separate team to take care of these eventualities.