The year 2021 is behind us, and as we enter the brand-new year, we look at it with a lot of hope. The year gone by was quite eventful for the air ambulance industry, to say the least. The pandemic continued into the second year, and by the looks of it, is going to bother the world in the years to come. However, there was a silver lining. The latest variant, Omicron, although considered highly transmissible is less lethal, especially when compared to the previous variant, Delta.
Then, there was the issue of balance billing, which brought a lot of negative public perceptions towards the air ambulance industry. It had created a constant tussle between the health insurance industry and the air ambulance industry. The result was the No Surprises Bill – effective January 2022.
Customer Expectations in 2022 from the Air Ambulance Industry
One major expectation will be to utilize air ambulance services without the worry of having to bear the balance payments. Payment will now be a matter that needs to be sorted out between insurance providers and the air ambulance industry.
Rural America can possibly breathe free of the worries about the Coronavirus given the fact that air ambulance service will now be much more reachable due to the No Surprises Bill. Of course, it is yet to be seen how much of the air ambulance industry will be willing to support rural areas. The reason: with the insurance companies prefixing costs, the medical flight providers might witness dwindling margins and diminishing motive to serve far-off regions.
Differences Need to be Ironed Out in 2022
Overall, it can be said that the air ambulance industry is moving in the right direction from the customers’ point of view. If all outstanding issues are sorted out, it will be highly beneficial to all parties involved. Perhaps, the government needs to play a more active role as an arbitrator.
The air ambulance industry in the United Kingdom and the United States are quite evolved and highly regulated. They are considered an integral part of the overall emergency response infrastructure and healthcare in general. The air ambulance industry has proved its worthiness during the COVID spikes in both countries, especially in the United States. The air ambulance industry has done a great job connecting the rural United States to appropriate healthcare. However, the industry itself has not remained unaffected by the COVID situation. The increased safety and sanitization protocols have brought about an increase in costs and a dip in revenue but that is not all. Let’s look at the various aspects that have been affected by COVID.
The Air Ambulance Industry Adopted an Evolving Response
There was a time where some of the players in the air ambulance industry would have their personnel shower right after a rescue. However, times have changed since then. Today, the world knows a lot about the COVID-19 infection. The protocols have evolved accordingly. That being said, it must be noted that the virus is still evolving, which means the protocols continue to change. The air ambulance industry has been quick to adapt to such changes.
The Changes have Been for the Better
From PPEs to sanitization protocols, the air ambulance industry has made several changes since the start of the pandemic. Certain things like strict hand hygiene and masks remain. One major factor that the industry had quickly moved to tackle was the mental stress and anxiety that the pandemic brought about. The world over, it was recognized quickly and several companies in the air ambulance industry set up special cells to take care of this aspect. Certain restrictions remain. For instance, group training. However, this too will change as the world is being vaccinated rapidly today.
The air ambulance industry saw quite a few developments in the recent past. From making the services affordable to ushering in new technology, the space was rife with exciting developments. We take a look at a few of the advances that caught our attention. Read on, to keep up with the latest happenings in the air ambulance industry.
Cost-Effectiveness Becomes the New Mantra of the Air Ambulance Industry
More and more states are allowing air ambulance memberships now. With the pressure on the air ambulance industry to contain costs and the new curbs on surprise billing around the corner, many service providers are now offering membership programs at a very reasonable price. It will be no surprise if the service providers soon start offering privileged services through membership programs to stay competitive and gain customer loyalty.
Norwegian Air Ambulance Acquires New Technology
Technology has been at the forefront of the air ambulance industry. Keeping with the trend, Norway’s national air ambulance service has acquired IV fluid and blood warming devices. The new facility will increase the chances of patient survival and recovery. The device will allow the fluids to be warmed to body temperature before infusion. In essence, people will now be able to get better care en route to hospitals. The national air ambulance of Norway will have this equipment fitted to all its choppers and fixed-wing aircraft.
Military and Air Ambulance Industry May Work Together to Fight COVID-19
Militaries across the globe have a sizeable lineup of helicopters. The air ambulance industry is well equipped to turn them into make-shift medical flights with no structural modifications. An example of this was seen recently in Austria where a military chopper was fitted with a medical kit and a COVID-19 patient was transported using its services. Governments around the world can take a leaf from this effort to fight the pandemic more effectively.
Although the air ambulance industry only forms a small part of the aviation industry, it is still a part of it. The aviation industry on the whole contributes about 2% of all human-generated carbon dioxide – in other words, about 915 million tonnes of it. There have been several attempts to contain this pollution. For instance, the air ambulance industry has been increasingly looking at electric-powered aircraft. Besides, drones are being tested to carry out tasks that an air ambulance normally undertakes. However, the success has been limited and the impact minimal as of now.
Air Ambulance Industry and Green Fuel
Speaking of green fuel, hydrogen is one thing that comes to mind. Considered the cleanest form of fuel, hydrogen can definitely transform the scene for the air ambulance industry. However, the production of hydrogen itself is not green and it can produce as much CO2 as fossil fuels. The net green advantage, therefore, is zero. That said, not all hope is lost. There is also carbon-neutral hydrogen, but disappointingly, it makes for only about 1% of the global production. This clean hydrogen is produced by electrolyzing water. The reason that it is not currently popular is its cost. The air ambulance industry might not be able to adopt it due to this fact.
What About Liquefied Natural Gas?
Liquefied natural gas or LNG is something that the air ambulance industry can look at if there is a change in the fuel infrastructure. It will take a holistic infrastructural change in the aviation industry for air ambulance services to adopt it. However, if it is achieved, the carbon footprint can be brought down to a huge extent. LNG is known to emit up to 30% less CO2. Besides, it can bring down the nitrous oxide emissions by up to 80%. It is also much lighter than conventional aviation fuel.
It can be safely said that its options galore today. All it takes is a bit of will to adopt.
The air ambulance industry has seen several technological advancements in recent times and so have drone designs. However, it is noteworthy that there are not many drones being used in the civilian space meaningfully. Of course, drones are being used in the military space extensively and with high success rates. What is stopping drones from entering the air ambulance industry? This is a question that naturally arises. In this context, it must be noted that it was the military that first adopted medical flights, which eventually became what we refer to today as the civilian air ambulance industry.
What will it Take Drones to Enter the Air Ambulance Industry?
Military drones usually function in no-man zones in war-torn or border areas where there are not many obstructions. They have a fixed task and a fixed target. There is a huge support system on the ground that adds to the functionality of the drones. However, this is not yet the case with the air ambulance industry. Looking at it from a civilian perspective, most of the drones would need to function in areas that are teeming with people, vehicles, and urban infrastructure. These translate into obstacles. Navigating through them is easier said than done.
Obstacle Avoidance is Key to Success
What if the drones are able to avoid obstacles on their own without the need for external interference? A sensory advancement like this can make a huge difference. Come to think of it, the feat is not impossible, especially considering the fact that this is precisely what autonomous vehicles do.
Of course, navigability is another issue. The ground controls that can remotely monitor the drones are limited by range. While satellite controls can be brought into the picture, the danger of misuse of such technological access looms large. The need, therefore, is for a middle ground where safety and efficiency are both ensured. For now, it is a game of wait-and-watch.
We have, for long, maintained that the air ambulance industry is extremely vital for the rural communities spread across the length and breadth of the United States. Now, with the flu season right around the corner, the importance of medical flights is even more. Besides, it looks like the COVID-19 pandemic is making a comeback with an increasing number of cases being reported throughout the country. There is no doubt that the population in the rural communities of the country will need special care in the days to come and the air ambulance industry will be the focus.
Air Ambulance Industry is the Bridge Rural America Needs
The onset of flu season may result in a flood of patients surging towards rural hospitals. The problem, however, is that there are not many health care facilities in these areas. Also, the capacity of these facilities to handle the pandemic could be less adequate than what the situation demands. Just think of the demands that a situation like this can place on the already stretched medical staff and resources. The situation can quickly turn chaotic and ultimately, lead to unprecedented tragedies. The time is right to pave way for the air ambulance industry to remain on standby.
How Can the Industry Prepare?
There are two aspects to this question. The first is under the control of the air ambulance industry. This includes setting up isolation pods, keeping resources such as PPEs handy, training the medical staff, etc. In fact, much of the air ambulance industry is already prepared due to the previous surge in COVID-19 cases.
The second part, however, is completely out of the air ambulance industry’s control. It involves money. With the insurance companies continuing to deny coverage for much of what the air ambulance companies quote, the problem is sure to bite the raw wound again.
The air ambulance industry has been transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Isolation pods, donning personal protective equipment, and sanitization procedures are the new norm for the industry. Although it has been close to three quarters since the onset of the pandemic, the world is still learning about it and the protocols and standards of care are still evolving. Along with it, the air ambulance industry is evolving. The rural communities, which are heavily reliant on medical flights, will be even more dependent on it in the post-COVID-19 era. Let’s take a look at what will change in the days and years to come.
Rural Communities will Continue to Rely on the Air Ambulance Industry
Scores of people around the country have been infected so far. The rural population of the United States does not have many options when it comes to quality healthcare. This fact might necessitate the flying of medical staff or the patients from one location to another for treatment purposes. The air ambulance industry will play a big role in instances like these, especially when there is an emergency. As more and more long-term effects of the infection come to light, treatment modalities will change.
People will Stop Delaying Treatment Plans
The air ambulance industry has witnessed a sharp decline in the number of customers in recent times. The restriction of movement has resulted in a huge reduction in road and adventure related accidents. Moreover, even patients with health concerns have chosen to not seek treatment for the fear of contracting the infection in the hospital. Instances like these will change once the country opens up completely and people feel confident about venturing out without fear. The pharmaceutical industry too is very close to developing a vaccine. Once the population is vaccinated and insulated against the infection, the air ambulance industry will come back to its pre-COVID-19 levels.
It was not too long ago that news headlines were abuzz with the possibility of ending surprise billing but now, it seems nothing much has changed. The air ambulance industry too was watching the development with much anticipation. What happened to all the efforts surrounding it? If this question has across your mind, you are not alone. Thousands of Americans were hoping that the practice ends, and they can avail healthcare facilities without worrying about insurance coverage. Had the bill been passed, people would have enjoyed seamless coverage despite being in or out of insurance networks. However, this does not seem to be the case anymore. Let’s take a look at what happened.
Are Private Equity Investors to Be Blamed?
There are allegations flying around that big investors ran an aggressive ad campaign to cast doubts on the move to ban surprise billing practices. On the part of the air ambulance industry, it must be noted that several service providers had enrolled themselves with various insurance providers to widen their network – a very welcome move.
Another set of people believe that lobbying against the bill was quite strong. In that, some of the lawmakers, at the end of it, were not very keen on ending the practice. The reason behind this is not entirely clear, though.
Is COVID-119 to be Blamed?
Many industries, including the air ambulance industry, had felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic that gripped the world. The increase in cost – owing to extensive sanitization and pandemic protocols – and reduction in demand were just a few of the reasons that put economic pressure on the air ambulance industry. Besides, the availability of medical staff became a big concern. The government too was grappling with ways to combat the unprecedented situation. With so many things weighing in, the will to do away with surprise billing seems to have simply vanished – at least for the time being.
Air ambulance industry and drones – the partnership sounds like a perfect plot for another part of the ‘Back to the Future’ series, doesn’t it? Well, not anymore. The possibility seems more like a reality with several firms working towards this goal today. We are already used to seeing drones among hobbyists, photographers, and even scientists. Then there are what seems like hypothetical implementations such as flying taxis and courier services. You will be surprised to know that companies such as Amazon and Uber are pursuing these possibilities with all seriousness and have invested quite a bit in them.
The Air Ambulance Industry is Already Using Drones
Emergency equipment like defibrillators is already being used by the air ambulance industry today, although the prevalence is not widely felt. Then there are larger drones, popular as autonomous aerial vehicles that are making news waves every now and then. Researchers are even working on surveillance drones for emergencies in remote areas. The ability of drones to reach areas where conventional helicopters cannot reach is their advantage. Besides, while a few thousand dollars might be at stake in risky situations, no lives are at risk with drones.
It is a Dicey Road to Tread
The problem lies in people not realizing the true potential of drones. More often, we find overenthusiastic hobbyists flying drones too close to flights. This is a concern that even the air ambulance industry has raised quite often. The prevalence of such use attracts the attention of lawmakers and rightly so, but they are also a hurdle.
It is quite possible that air ambulance industry operators will have to procure separate licenses when it comes to drones, once their use gains mainstream credibility. However, it might be a necessity considering that skies need to be safer for everyone. All said and done, the air ambulance industry is all set for a new evolution in the near future.
People around the world are wary of getting out of the confines of the home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The result has been a reduction in emergency calls for the air ambulance industry. The change has come into play due to the reduced crime rates and accidents as fewer people have ventured out lately. While this is a good sign in general, there is a negative commercial aspect to it that can affect this commercial emergency service profoundly. It must be understood that reduced calls affect the revenue of the air ambulance industry in general where most players are heavily indebted.
The Expenses have Increased
Responding to emergencies is no longer the same as it used to be. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed things deeply. Today, the paramedics must sport personal protective equipment (PPE) before they venture out into helping anyone on the ground. This is essential to protect the crew’s health and also that of the person who is facing the emergency. This results in a further uptick in the cost as these PPEs cannot be reused. Also, there are protocols in place for sanitization after each evacuation, which further adds to the cost.
The Air Ambulance Industry is Seeking Financial Aid
It is not that there has been no financial aid coming towards the air ambulance industry; however, it is yet to be seen how effective the distribution has been. It must be noted in this context that several small players in the industry cater to rural communities. These critical services are the only line of defense for these communities where local hospitals have shut down in large numbers. If these organizations are not helped financially, they might eventually shut down. It is therefore vital that a close watch is kept on the industry’s requirements.