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Lowering Medical Flight Standards – Really a Solution to Cut Costs?

The medical flight industry is highly competitive with hundreds of organizations offering this emergency service around the world. With insurance companies not always covering the full cost of the medical flights and people being wary of the high price involved, the question that is being contemplated is whether lowering the standards of service within the legal realm a viable option. Among the cost factors are maintenance, fuel, hangars, and staff. While the first three are almost impossible to control, staffing is something that most are looking at. Here are a few things that some medical flight providers around the world are considering according to a recent survey by ITIJ.

Cutting Down Medical Flight Staffing and Training Costs

Of course, the more experienced professionals such as doctors, nurses, paramedics and pilots come at a huge cost. But then, there are low-cost medical flight service providers who lower their standards when it comes to hiring standards. It must be noted in this regard that staffing is among the highest recurring expense for most companies.

Training can be expensive too. In order to maintain accreditations, constant training programs need to be held and medical flight companies must make way for the accreditation agencies to evaluate them. All these activities can push the costs high. Doing away with accreditations can cut the cost to some extent and this is among the reasons why several medical flight service providers veer away from them.

Containing the Cost of Equipment

The medical flight industry is constantly evolving, especially when it comes to technology. Using outdated equipment that is still legally acceptable is a choice that many air ambulance companies are contemplating today.

The question that one must ask in this context is whether this is the right path to take. People are entitled to best care possible at reasonable costs. How this can be achieved is a question that only future will tell.

Air Ambulance Criteria – The Logic Behind Suggesting Hospitals

The common assumption, most often, is that a patient is always flow to the nearest treating facility when an air ambulance is employed. However, this is not always true, although the nearest facility is taken into consideration owing to the cost as the nearest one would obviously cost the minimum. What people need to understand is that air ambulance is a live-saving service and not a cost-saving service. The primary criterion is therefore not just the nearest but also the most appropriate treating facility. For instance, a burn victim may be carried by the air ambulance to the nearest burn care center, although a highly specialized trauma care is just a few blocks away. Again, the primary intent here is to save lives.

Other Considerations taken Into Account by Air Ambulance

The paramedics have a huge say in deciding the treating facility. Of course, they cannot suggest any specific hospital as this would give a leeway for bias but they can specify the kind of facility that the patient should be flown to. Typically, the choice is between the following during medical emergencies:

  • Trauma Centers
  • Burn Centers
  • Cardiac Care Centers
  • Stroke Centers
  • Pediatric Hospitals

What Happens When a Patient is Involved in a Multi-Casualty Incident?

Natural disasters, for instance, can result in multiple people in need of urgent care. In cases like these, it is impossible for one hospital to take care of all the incoming casualties, no matter how close it is to the incident. An air ambulance in such a situation will look for appropriate facilities, regardless of the distance.

Does Patient Choice Come into Picture?

There might be instances where your health insurance covers you in one particular hospital but not the other; it is fair to request the air ambulance service provider in such instances to fly you to the one that will not affect your coverage. However, one has to mindful whether the cost of air ambulance service, in such cases, is covered or not. It is wise to consult your case worker in a situation like this.

Dealing with Stress as a Medical Air Transport Professional

Medical air transport professionals are usually the first to respond to emergency calls and trauma scenes are sometimes very stressful to handle with death and serious injuries being a part of it. Medical air transport professionals do not even get time to let the situation sink in as they are expected to act immediately. This can cause quite a lot of mental trauma to them. Added to this is the physical stress of the entire situation where they have to move the patient, equipment, etc., so that lives can be saved.

Common Mental Ailments among Medical Air Transport Personnel

Research shows that depression, PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder, fatigue and anxiety are highly prevalent among medical air transport professionals. The tragedy of the matter is that they do not often get time to introspect into their mental wellbeing because of the situations that they often find themselves in where they are expected to be highly reactive to the surroundings. By the time they realize their mental state, they are already deep into these psychological ailments. While it is a shared responsibility of the employers and the personnel, here are some tips to stay mentally healthy.

Tips for Mental Health

  • Increasing mindfulness through meditation: Meditation allows people to take a step back and introspect. All the deeply buried feelings come to surface and one becomes in-tuned with his or her own mental state. The ability to detach oneself from sufferings around is greatly increased.
  • Confiding in others: Every person has friends or colleagues that they can talk to. Getting certain things out of our system can help. It’s a sort of an outlet. Medical air transport professionals can also make use of in-house psychologists to open up. Even keeping a journal can help.
  • Exercising to reduce stress: Endorphins that result from exercise can get rid of stress to a huge extent. Air ambulance professionals must make physical activity of their choice a part of their daily routine.

Finally, it is vital that people speak out when they are under stress. There is nothing wrong in seeking help when it is warranted.

Air Ambulance Companies Caught in Health Insurance Spiral

Imagine heading a business where customers only pay you 30% of the time in full and the remaining 70% only pay you 50% of the cost. How would your business survive? This is precisely the situation of most air ambulance companies in the United States of America say industry experts. What adds insult to the injury is the fact that there is a outcry about the charges both in national media as well as people, not to mention the politicians who are trying to pin all the blame on air ambulance companies. Most players in the industry say that air ambulance business is getting harder by the day to run.

Air Ambulance Companies Asked to Do More

Rural hospitals in the US are closing down at a rapid rate. More and more rural patients are veering towards the services extended by air ambulance companies. However, the fact remains that air ambulance services are expensive and the costs are not being reimbursed by health insurance providers citing several reasons. While the most common is the ‘lack of medical necessity’ others simply have a small ceiling of reimbursements that have not been revised for a very long time.

Most of the Air Ambulance Costs are Fixed

Costs of running a medical base is, on an average, about USD 3 million a year. This amount accounts for about 85% of the costs and are fixed. These include maintenance of the aircraft, hangar, support staff, crew and the like. Then there are write-downs that are either forced upon the air ambulance companies or the ones that they undertake themselves on humanitarian grounds. All this adds up to a huge amount. Plus, there are always the running costs such as fuel which is also quite expensive. Industry experts feel that the demand for the services provided by air ambulance companies is going to increase considering that the population is aging, and that something needs to be done on a war footing to make the reimbursements commiserate with the services provided.

 

Why are Medical Flight Services Expensive?

It has almost become a norm to blame organizations that offer medical flight services but not many people take the time or the effort to understand why they charge so steeply. While it cannot be denied that there is a definite profit motive as these are commercially operated organizations, there is more to their expenses than what meets the eye. The costs are not simply limited to the fuel that is utilized, there are far wider factors in play that push the costs up and we explore some of these.

The Major Expenses that All Medical Flight Services Must Meet

Typically, an air ambulance does not undertake more than three missions in a day. For the rest of the time, this highly expensive machine is simply forced to sit idle. Moreover, it does not fly a single mission several days in a year. While this is a fact, the cost of the funds raised to acquire it continues to compound. Same is the case with the base; medical flight services need a place to park the choppers and fixed-wing aircrafts throughout the year and the rent is, obviously, an added cost that needs to be borne.

The Expenses of Maintaining a Highly Qualified Team

Highly experienced pilots, paramedics, nurses and the technicians are just some of the staff members that medical flight services need to hire. Then, there are support staff, operational staff and the management staff too.

Utmost care is taken to ensure that the crew is properly rested. This translates into stipulated work hours regardless of there being a call for medical flight services or not. Of course, many of the crew members also take care of other duties while the air ambulance is docked; nevertheless, it is an expensive affair. Constant upgrades and training are other sources of expense, not to forget the expenses of remaining compliant with ever-changing regulations.

Tackling Psychosis on Air Ambulance

Psychosis can be a real problem for air ambulance professionals as they try to offer the best possible care during transport. Most often, specialists are relied upon to care for such patients during air ambulance travel. However, there are often cases where psychosis is simply a result of the situation that the patient is in and not necessarily a pre-existing condition. Therefore, the air ambulance professionals do not necessarily have any means to expect a situation like this. The reasons for the condition may be several and the response can vary from case to case. We look at some of such scenarios and discuss the best way to handle them.

Drug-Induced Psychosis on Air Ambulance

Crystal meth, cocaine, and a few designer drugs can induce severe psychosis in patients where they exhibit paranoid and panicky behaviour. The first course of action in such cases is administration of an antipsychotic drug. Restraints are not usually necessary unless the patient needs immediate IV medication. In such cases, a mild manual restraint is, most often, enough. However, unexpected display of physical strength during psychosis can warrant more effective and long- lasting restraints until hospital care is made available. The air ambulance professionals, in such instances, must ensure that the pulmonary function of the patient is not compromised in any way owing to the restraints.

Handing Patients with Pre-existing Mental Ailments

An example would be a schizophrenic who might need both medications and restraints to ensure smooth air ambulance travel. Usually, a qualified medical professional accompanies the patient in such situations. Then, there are also those patients who suffer from mild psychosis. The first approach to handle them is simply soothing words. Keeping such patients calm is often a matter of saying the right thing. Accompanying family members who know how to handle the patient are a huge help in cases like these.

Pertinent Questions to Be Asked Before Airambulance Dispatch

The questions that we discuss in this guide are primarily related to motor vehicle accidents. It must be noted that this is just a suggestive guide and only briefly looks into the various aspects that need to be covered when answering initial calls for airambulance dispatch. Most of the times, the calls are routed to airambulance service providers by emergency services. However, on rare occasions, calls may be made directly to the service providers. This guide may be helpful to an extent in situations like these.

Initial Questions to be Asked When a Request for Airambulance is Made

After a brief introduction and convincing the caller help is already on the way and that the call is in no way delaying the emergency response, attempts must be made to gain information regarding the motor vehicle accident victims. The caller should be asked whether he or she is still on the scene and whether the caller can see the patient. If the answer is negative, it is better to terminate the call and answer other calls pertaining to the same incident. However, if the answer comes in the positive, a different approach with a different set of questions must be followed.

The Subsequent Questions to be Asked

The person who calls the airambulance must be asked to quickly narrate what has transpired. Stock must be taken of the number of casualties and the caller must be asked where the patient is at the current time. Additionally, questions pertaining to the incident, in specific, must be asked. These could include the speed of the vehicle during the crash, the surface that the patient has fallen on, whether the patient is trapped, whether there are any burn injuries, etc. Apart from this, questions that are specific to the patient’s condition must be asked. These could be whether the patient is conscious and coherent, and whether the patient is breathing normally.

Questions like these will help you ascertain the seriousness of the situation and whether any ancillary services are required.

Categorizing Reasons Why a Medical Flight Cannot Respond to Calls At Times

There are several terms used to describe a situation where a medial flight does not arrive even after a call. The reasons behind this could be several but it is important to categorize these using appropriate terminologies so that an organization that owns the medical flights can optimize and also gauge its effectiveness. It makes gathering of meaningful data easy. Let’s explore these terminologies in some detail.

Cancelled Medical Flight Calls

The category ‘cancelled’ should only be used to describe those situations where the medical flight has taken off, but it is asked to return when it is en route to the patient’s location. The reason behind this could be demise of the subject that warranted the air ambulance service in the first place or a change in situation where it is felt that the medical condition is not serious enough to warrant a medical flight.

Stand Down of a Medical Flight

When the risk of flying to a particular location is too high, the mission to serve the patient is usually abandoned. All such instances must be categorized under ‘stand downs’. This directly affects the dispatch rate but it is a call that must be taken keeping the safety of the crew in mind.

Aborted Missions

The decision to abort a medical flight mission is usually only taken when the weather condition is too harsh to fly. Missions can also be aborted owing to mechanical problems or inability to fly during bad light.

Once all the missed flights are segregated in the above categories, it becomes easy for the medical flight service provider to gauge what is causing the changes in the dispatch rates. Any areas of improvement such as night vision must be dealt with so that superior service and better dispatch rate can be achieved. The categorization also helps medical flight organizations to set targets and better organize themselves.

Factors that Determine the Need for Medical Flight Service

As we have time and again discussed, the decision to avail a medical flight service, most often, is in the hands of the treating physician and the patient has little say in it. However, it is always good to have the knowledge of what constitutes a medical necessity for availing an air ambulance service.

Criticality of Time and Treatment Facility

In a situation where the injury or health condition is serious enough that immediate medical attention is warranted and an air ambulance can cut down the travel time greatly, such a service becomes a necessity. It also becomes a necessity when the medical facility in which the patient is receiving treatment is not equipped enough to handle the patient’s condition. The patient may be in need of immediate advanced medical care.

Accessibility to Ground Ambulance and Availability of Medical Flight Service

Certain areas, especially rural, might not have the land infrastructure to transport the patient. In such cases, if a medical flight service becomes available right away, it can be a real life saver. For a medical helicopter, all it takes is a helipad, which most hospitals have today.

Does the Local Ground Transport Leave the Local Area with Inadequate Coverage?

This is an important question that needs to be answered. Rural towns, often have just one or two air ambulances for the entire community. Shifting a patient to a medical facility that is quite a distance from the home base can leave the local community without adequate emergency medical access. A medical flight may be opted in a situation like this.

Medical Facility Available in the Transport Vehicle

Ground ambulance may lack in certain critical care equipment that are available in a medical flight service. In a situation like that, even if time is not a factor, the patient might still be transported via a medical flight service.

Challenges Involved in Starting an Air Ambulance Business

Air ambulance service, as a business, is not short of challenges, budget being the first concern but not the least of it. A good business plan that lays out the path to profitability can easily attract investors. However, there are other challenges that are seldom looked into by most entrepreneurs. Here, we discuss some of those road blocks in some detail.

Understanding the Legislations Across the World

The air ambulance industry in the US, as most experts opine, is pretty saturated. It is, therefore, recommended that entrepreneurs target the global market. This necessitates looking into legislations that govern the land. While the norms in most developed, capitalistic countries are similar, they can vary a lot when it comes to developing countries and socialistic policies too can pose some government roadblocks. It is wise to employ an array of consultants to overcome this hurdle.

Provision of Round the Clock Air Ambulance Services

Failure to respond to emergencies can leave your organization with negative public perception problem. To ensure that air ambulance services are always available throughout the year, it is necessary to make arrangements to be available throughout all weather conditions. Also, medical staff needs to be on standby at all times, even though this means additional overheads. Most air ambulance companies overcome this problem by transferring this overhead costs to the end consumer. However, the wisest thing to do is introduce memberships for nominal fees. Efforts must be made to remain ‘in coverage’ of insurance networks so that reimbursements are seamless.

Acquiring Air Ambulance Fleet and Keeping the Staff Well Trained

Air ambulance industry demands seasoned, qualified professionals and it’s hard to find people who fit this criterion. Plus, there is the issue of ongoing training to the staff. Accredited training organizations must be looped in to meet this challenge. Lack of ongoing training can impact the quality of services immensely.