Medical flight professionals play an important role in offering life-saving services that range from triaging to offering emergency medical care on the spot and during transit. However, it must be observed that they perform these tasks in enclosed spaces with limited resources, both in terms of equipment and personnel. Rapid decisions and medical interventions are all a part of their daily routine. There is a constant need to keep in touch with medical experts on the ground. That’s not the end of it, the crew is expected to maintain a clear record of what has been done so that the transfer of care is smooth and seamless.
Best Practices for Medical Flight Professionals
The foremost thing to do is inform the receiving hospital about the status of the patient. If he or she is suspected of COVID-19 infection that must be made apparent. Even in the absence of a clear test report, if the patient is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, it is best to keep the receiving hospital informed. This is especially important as the protocol to receive a COVID-19 patient varies when compared to other health conditions. The practice can save several valuable minutes and appropriate care can be quickly provided upon landing.
Personal Care is Important
It is not possible to drastically modify most if the medical flight choppers to accommodate COVID-19 patients. Being in an enclosed space without a clear separation between the crew and the patient increases the risk of infection. However, PPE (personal protective equipment) offers an effective shield in this situation. It is reported that the PPE can be uncomfortable when worn for long periods of time, but it should not be a reason to compromise safety. Also, all mandated sanitization protocols laid down by the CDC and other government health agencies must be strictly adhered to.
Medical flight crews are at the frontline of the COVID-19 battle. While these brave men and women are tirelessly working for the good of patients, the fact remains that it is taking an immense toll on their mental health. The working conditions have drastically changed – sanitization and donning of PPE are necessary at every step. Not just that, there is the constant fear of contracting the infection and eventually passing it on to the loved ones. Torn between the sense of responsibility towards the society and to their families, medical flight crews are under tremendous pressure today. However, help is not far for such individuals.
Medical Flight Companies Recognize the Need to Help
Medical flight companies around the world are formulating policies that offer help when the crew members need it the most. Offering counseling and professional mental health on particularly tough days is one such effort. Also, companies are keeping an open line so that the frontline workers can seek help when they need it. Some of them are even going to the extent of preparing questionnaires to assess the mental status of the healthcare workers who constantly take to skies in tough situations.
William and Kate’s Foundation is Leading the Way
The two royals have been regularly advocating for the medical flight industry in the United Kingdom. Their efforts have been targeted at the mental health of frontline workers too. Now, they have set up a fund of British Pounds 1.8 million that will help this cause. The idea is to include the frontline workers as well as those affected heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic. Their organization will lend a helping hand to 10 chosen charitable entities. Access to peer-to-peer support and mental health resources is among them. The effort will surely help when the anxiety level among medical flight crews is perhaps at its highest.
The lockdowns around the world are easing, down and people are slowly gaining the confidence back to venture out and involve in matters that are pressing for a society to function normally. One of such activities is medical flight charity. Countries like the United Kingdom depend heavily on public contributions to keep the air ambulance services running. Here are a few developments that stand evidence to the fact that they are inching towards normalcy.
A Kid from Reading Raising Money for Medical Flight Services
Alfie, an 8-year-old boy, has made news for his efforts to raise money for Children’s Air Ambulance. This enterprising child organized a sponsored run and has been selling bird feeders to raise money. It is believed that he has already raised a few hundred pounds through his relentless efforts. Alfie is a part of #TheCrew, a children’s club, involved in raising money for the worthy cause.
Medics in Ireland take up Cycling Challenge to Raise Money
A team of 11, comprising of an engineer, six doctors, and 4 paramedics is all set to take up a cycling challenge that will cover 110 miles. The effort has come in the face of COVID-19 pandemic, which stalled several fund-raising efforts. The endurance challenge is set to take place between the 2nd and 3rd of October. The expectation is that it will raise the much-needed funds to keep the medical flight services going. They are doing this for the Northern Ireland Air Ambulance.
Midlands Air Ambulance Charity goes Virtual
This charity has revealed that their pre-hospital services have shot up by 35% due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization has, therefore, decided to give the community that it serves an insight into what typically goes on. It will, of course, be a fund-raising initiative too. The organization has taken the virtual route to ensure the safety of the community amid the pandemic.
An insurer has gone to the Kansas Supreme Court dragging a medical flight company. The contention has been that the company has been charging unreasonably high prices for its services. Terming the practice of billing ‘predatory’, the petitioner has asked the court to intervene, although the medical flight industry has been insulated by a federal law that bars states from interfering in the matters of billing. The court is yet to pass a ruling, and the service provider in question is EagleMed. The air ambulance industry argues that high charges towards privately insured people are a way to offset the losses resulting from uninsured people or those with Medicaid and Medicare.
The Tough Competition in the Medical Flight Industry
There are several players in the medical flight industry today. This means more service providers for a limited number of service seekers. This makes it incredibly hard for most companies to stay afloat because they fail to get enough customers to balance the costs. As a result, the cost of maintenance is distributed among those who avail of their services. The federal law acts as a shield allowing these companies to employ this practice.
The Federal Law is Aimed at Staying Competitive
The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 is a federal law. It is aimed at airlines, and since the medical flight industry is considered a part of aviation and not the healthcare industry, the Act holds good for it too. However, the main purpose of this act is to encourage competition to lower prices. This is not the case with air ambulances. Since the patients have little say in the service providers that they choose during emergencies, the medical flight companies get a free hand to charge as they please. The insurance companies, on the other hand, have not changed their coverage for years together. This translates into lower coverage, and the ultimate burden of clearing the bills falls on the customers.
Previously, the only use that was being seen for medical flight services amidst the COVID-19 pandemic was the transportation of infected patients from rural America. The reasoning behind this was that the urban part of the nation is better equipped to provide healthcare. However, it was later seen that the rural spread was quite limited. Unfortunately, recent trends have been quite different. While global cities such as New York continue to grapple with the disease, the infection is now seen making way towards inner parts of the nation, especially the rural regions. The reason for this could be several, including people from cities finding save havens in isolated rural regions.
Chronically Ill will Need Medical Flight Services
The Novel Coronavirus is known to increase the risk of people with co-morbidities, especially if they are over 60 years of age. It must be noted in this context that most of the rural population in the United States is old and is at high risk of losing lives if faced by a COVID-19 attack. Imagine someone suffering from cancer and also contracting the disease. The only recourse would be to take the patient to the nearest appropriate treating facility in the shortest possible time. That would, undoubtedly, necessitate medical flight services.
An Industry Struggling to Stay Afloat
The medical flight industry has been at the forefront of evacuating American citizens who are stuck in countries hit by COVID-19. However, it is worth noting here that the industry, which was already struggling to survive due to high costs, has had it even worse amid the pandemic. The demand for services has fallen drastically. Moreover, personal protective equipment has been hard to procure. The biggest hurdle has been the lack of frontline workers as most of them are now fighting the virus on the ground.
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.
Imagine a situation where a patient is in a life-threatening situation and a medical flight is an absolute necessity. The treating physician recommends an air ambulance. However, when a call is placed for dispatch, the service provider refuses to comply. The reason behind this is bad weather conditions. The hospital then calls several other service providers until they find one that is willing to take the risk. This is called medical flight shopping. While this might seem to be a logical recourse for the patient, it is not always desirable. The risk taken by the patient and the crew is huge in such circumstances. Why do air ambulance service providers agree to such a call?
The Pressures on the Medical Flight Industry
There are over a thousand medical flight service providers in the United States. This means they have to divide the existing customer base within themselves. Plus, most of these businesses are privately funded so profits matter. Rejecting patients for whatever reason does not serve the profit motive of these investors. Hence, the crew is compelled to take the call of answering to the need. However, this eventually places a huge financial burden on the patient. Let’s understand how.
The Out of Network Issue
In a situation where the need for medical flight service is huge and time is short, the patient does not really have the option of choosing a service provider. Most often, the service that he or she ends up with is one that is not covered by the insurance provider. While the insurance might cover a base rate, medical flight companies do not always comply with such rates. As a result, the patient is later compelled to cough up a steep price that the medical flight company charges in the form of balance bills. Medical flight shopping thus is a high-risk and expensive affair – a practice that must be relooked.
Connected vehicles are making big waves these days, especially cars. Medical flight services can be enhanced by leveraging this technology. Wondering how? Read on. Connected vehicles are based on the fact that data can be transmitted from one vehicle to a dashboard where the relayed electrical impulses can be translated into a language that is intelligible to human beings. The purpose is to take appropriate action based on the insights received. This communication is enabled through a combination of satellite connectivity, mobile phone towers, SIM cards, and sensors. Let’s take a look at the ecosystem of these tiny devices before we get into how they facilitate quick medical flight response.
Understanding Connected Devices
The sensor fitted in the vehicle, for instance a car, takes into account factors such as the geographic location of the vehicle, the speed, the extent of impact (in case of accidents), occupant health such as vital signs (through connected wearable devices),as well as the vibration, temperature, and sound of the vehicle. It constantly monitors and analyses these parameters. If one of them is off beyond a certain limit that is considered unsafe, it sets off an alert by leveraging mobile connectivity and satellites to a predefined location – for instance the nearest emergency response team.
How Connected Vehicles Help Better Medical Flight Response
For one, the call for help is immediate. Second, the call for help is accompanied by a wealth of data pertaining to the distance and exact location of the accident along with the occupants’ health-related data. This can be of immense help to the medical flight that is responding to the emergency. It can get onboard appropriate healthcare equipment as well as experts. Since the location is precise, reaching it becomes that much easier. It also helps them prepare the receiving facility well in advance. The result is invariably a better chance of survival.
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.