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.
Medical flight professionals function in an atmosphere of uncertainty today where what seems like an unknown illness can be a highly infectious disease, especially with the flu season and infections like Novel Coronavirus making rounds. In this context, how can they ensure their safety while caring for the sick? The question beckons some thought and also a few precautions to remain safe. Difficulty breathing, fever, and cough can be reason enough to take the precautions that we discuss below. The idea is for medical flight personnel to remain prepared to avoid any unforeseen eventualities.
Precautions to be Taken by Medical Flight Professionals
The foremost thing to do is to handle bodily fluids such as blood, vomit, and diarrhea with utmost caution. In this regard, hand washing is very important. Washing hands often when in contact with patients with respiratory difficulty is advisable. Soap is effective, but alcohol-based cleaning agent, which contains at least 60% alcohol is also advised. Care must be taken to not touch the nose, eyes, or mouth with unwashed hands. Medical flight professionals must make ample use of disposable gloves while handling patients. These must be disposed of carefully in biohazard bags. It must be kept in mind that hands are washed even after removing the gloves.
Other Precautions that are Necessary
In areas that are known to have even the smallest number of infected patients, medical flight professionals must make use of bodysuits that are certified to insulate from infections. Since it is suspected that Novel Coronavirus can be aerosolized, it is wise to wear a facemask as a form of protection. Also, the number of personnel coming in direct contact with the sick should be minimized, although it is impossible to completely eliminate this possibility. Most importantly, one should be well-versed with the precautions put forth by the CDC.
It is believed that the medical flights will be in great demand for most part of the next two decades and will grow at a rate of 9.3%. In the past year, the industry grew to US$ 4,524.7 million. Those are some robust numbers and not the kind we commonly see in the prevailing economy. What are the driving factors behind these trends? It is certainly not the affordability of the people as evident by the growing concerns surrounding the balance bills that never fail to make the headlines. It is the medical need that is driving the air ambulance industry. Here are some sharp insights.
Medical Flights and Diabetes
Perhaps the most common lifestyle disease that prevails today is diabetes. While there is nothing that cries emergency about diabetes, it is a cause for more serious ailments. People with diabetes are known to eventually develop serious heart and kidney conditions, which give rise to life-threatening emergencies. This is where medical flights come into picture. With the US fighting obesity and diabetes (as a consequence), the market is set on an upswing. In fact, currently, there are about 463 million diabetics in the country, and it is projected to reach 700 million in the next 25 years.
Medical Flights and Drug-Related Emergencies
The illicit drug menace has bothered the country for long. Today, it is believed drugs are among the biggest killers when it comes to people under the age of 50. A lot of times, these give rise to serious and unexpected medical emergencies ranging from overdose to motor vehicle accidents. Medical flights are the only recourse in most cases.
Medical Flights and Rural Hospitals
It is a known fact that rural hospitals have been closing down at a rapid rate in the country, and the trend has been up since a decade now. Medical flights are the only way out for the residents of such areas.
In a way, the market for medical flights is a reflection of how healthy the society is.
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.
The air ambulance industry has often cited the Airline Deregulation Act whenever questions have been raised against its billing practices. It is obvious that most people are curious about this act that precludes the states from interfering in the matters of the medical flight industry.
The law was originally passed in the year 1978 with the intent of keeping the prices of commercial flights low and to promote a healthy capitalistic competition. Prior to that, the commercial airline industry was seeing a lot of monopolistic moves and the prices were quite high. The Act was quite successful and the primary reason why we see highly competitive prices in the commercial airline market even today.
How did it Affect Air Ambulance Industry?
The credit goes to the air ambulance industry that has successfully argued they too are in the business of commercial flights and, therefore, the states cannot interfere in the matters of their pricing. However, like all industries, there are bad players in the air ambulance industry too. They have leveraged this act to charge incredibly high amounts to the customers. The issue has now catapulted to the extent that it has caught national attention. Some experts believe that strong lobbying of the industry is even influencing federal decision makers.
The Argument against the Air Ambulance Industry
Many believe that air ambulance industry must not be treated as commercial airlines. Instead, medical flights must be treated as public health utilities. Part of the argument is also that the congress – while formulating the act – would not have imagined that the air ambulance industry would interpret it the way it has been at this point. Also, the main intent was to keep the prices competitive and not soaring as is the case today. The air ambulance industry too, on the other hand, has a valid point. It points fingers at the insurance industry, which is known to deny out-of-network 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.
A medical flight paramedic is a part of the support team that acquires immense importance every time there is a medical emergency. They work in conjunction with physicians and nurses. Medical flight paramedics almost invariably fly to the scene of medical team in the air ambulance. It is a frenzy of activities once they reach the spot, where they are expected to diagnose the patient, evaluate the situation and deliver the best life-saving care possible so that the patient can be transported safely to the appropriate treating facility. The job demands keeping a cool head under pressure.
The Career Prospects of a Medical Flight Paramedic
It is believed that in 2011, there were about 2,000 flight paramedics in the United States. However, the numbers have steadily grown since then. The growth is expected to be at a rate of about 23% until 2022. According to statistics that date back to 2012, the median salary of a flight paramedic was slightly over $31,000 but it is safe to assume that the amount has gone up drastically owing to increased demand. Industry experts believe that the demand will go up further as rural American hospitals are closing down rapidly, in turn fuelling the need for air ambulances.
Requirements to become a Flight Paramedic
The candidate must be at least 18 years of age and be certified as an EMT or emergency medical technician. The course must be approved by NREMT. The person should have worked as a paramedic for at least three years already and have CPR as well as paddle training. Other factors such as physical fitness are also important.
Here is a list of certifications needed:
- Prehospital trauma life support
- Advanced pediatric life support
- Advanced cardiac life support
- Basic life support
- NREMT, ATLS-Audit, TNACT, and CCEMTP
Once these certifications are acquired, the candidate must pass FP-C exam to ultimately start career as a medical flight paramedic.
The Right Questions to Ask a Medical Flight Company
Medical flights become a necessity when ground ambulances are not a choice. However, when the need for transport is not urgent, you have the time to make a sound choice, but first, you must know what questions you must pose to the medical flight company. Here, we discuss a few pertinent ones.
Does the Medical Flight Service Come Under My Insurance Network?
Health is important but cost is a factor too. Medical flight services can be quite expensive. When given a choice, you must exercise it to know what you are getting into. Air ambulance transport bills can run into the tens of thousands and in the hundreds of thousands, if the destination is across borders.
What Mode of Medical Flight is Right for Me?
Fixed-wing air ambulances are slightly more expensive than helicopters. However, they are quick and much more comfortable. In fact, preference must be given to fixed-wing flights if the journey is long. One major limitation, however, is its ability to land. Unlike helicopters, they need extended landing grounds.
Is the Air Ambulance Equipped Enough?
Today, one can hire air ambulances that suit the prevailing medical condition of a patient. For instance, you can hire one that is a flying neonatal care unit, if the patient is a newborn. Mission critical equipment like ECG monitors and the like must be available if the situation demands it.
Will the Organization Coordinate Care Beyond the Flight?
Most medical flight companies will offer you services that go beyond simply taking you from one place to another. They coordinate care with the receiving facility and keep in touch with ground ambulances if their services are required. If it is a cross-border transfer, the service provider may help you with the necessary formalities too.
These are some of the vital questions that one must ask before opting for a medical flight service to avoid any nasty surprises later.
Air ambulance services are usually viewed from a narrow lens. In other words, we associate medical flights with emergencies at a very granular level where individuals are rescued. We tend to ignore that they are a huge part of relief and rescue efforts at a government level across the globe. When natural calamities and manmade disasters are epic in proportion, air ambulances are the last hope for survival sometimes. Of course, they do not work in isolation and are a part of the bigger emergency response ecosystem. However, sharing of data, managing them securely and keeping the entire picture transparent and tamper-proof can be a challenge. This is something that blockchain technology can get right.
Blockchain Technology is More than Bitcoins
What most people fail to understand is that Bitcons or cryptocurrencies are just one application of blockchain technology. The real benefit is enablement of a system in which data flow is seamless, transparent and unchangeable. For large government organizations across the world, this is a huge plus because emergency situations are often soft targets for unscrupulous exploitation. Blockchain can keep make it virtually impossible for anyone to tamper with data and consequently the relief funds.
What is Blockchain Technology and How Can it Help Air Ambulance Services
We already know that blockchain brings to picture an immutable record of transactions. For air ambulance services, the biggest benefit is the trustworthy connection it brings to the emergency response ecosystem.
The answer to what the technology is all about: Blockchain is essentially a network that brings a large group together into a system where no change can be made in the dark. The only way to make a change is to make it apparent to the rest of the stakeholders in the network. Also, there is no going back to modify data. In all, this brings transparency to a group where the flow of information is truthful at all times.
Well this might not come to you as a surprise because you might have witnessed this yourself. According to one survey conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation, about 40% of US citizens have revealed that their families have received a medical bill despite being covered by medical insurance. This is a growing problem for the country as insurance companies are seen restricting the number of providers in their networks. Of course, out of network providers are not covered by insurance companies. In this context, the question arises, is it the same logic behind huge medical flight bills that people across the country are witnessing?
Medical Flight Bills and Insurance Network
A majority of industry experts believe medical flight service providers willingly stay out of insurance networks. The reason is simple, they lose the freedom to charge what they feel is fair for their services. It is also felt that there is a huge disparity between what the medical flight industry believes is a fair payout and what the insurance industry pays. The middle ground, it seems, is something that has not been achieved so far. The issue has not gone unnoticed by the lawmakers. However, the opinion is divided as to who is responsible for the huge bills.
Efforts by Lawmakers to Bring Down the Bills
Several attempts have been made to limit the amount that can be charged for medical flight services. From trying to ban balance billing to compelling air ambulance companies to come under insurance networks, several innovative efforts have failed. The reason behind this is the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. Designed to create a competitive environment to keep the price of this essential service down, it precludes the state governments from intervening in the matters of air ambulances. Only the Federal Government is authorized to make changes.