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.
Air ambulance transport can be an expensive affair, especially when the patient needs to be flown from one country to another. However, it must be noted that air ambulance transport is not always a necessity. When patients are unable to tolerate a normal flight that demands hours of maintaining a sitting position, stretchers become a cost-effective alternative to booking a full air ambulance flight. Most commercial airliners make way for such a facility. The effort involved is not much, but it does take quite a bit of coordination, demanding knowledge and planning pertaining to medical stretchers. Let’s take a brief look.
Stretchers are Almost as Effective as Air Ambulance Transport
Essentially, when you contact an air ambulance transport company, their team would get in touch with a commercial airliner and make provisions to remove a few seats. In the place of those seats, a medical stretcher is then fitted. This allows the patient to travel lying down. It also makes way for treatments such as intravenous fluid transfusion and constant monitoring of the patient. It is normal for medical staff to travel along with the patient. The medical transport company also arranges the seamless transfer from the hospital to the airport and from the airport to the destination upon landing.
There are Limitations
A critically or severely ill patient cannot be transported via stretchers on commercial flights. Air ambulance transport becomes the only solution in such cases. A medical flight can create all those facilities that are typical of an ICU but the same cannot be arranged in a commercial flight. Also, those patients who are at high risk for contracting infections like COVID and those who are suffering from a highly infectious disease cannot be transported via commercial flights. Again, such patients must rely on air ambulance transport.
Medical flight services demand that the organization providing it coordinates with several agencies to bring the patient a seamless experience. This includes coordinating with ground staff, last-mile transportation to the hospital, contacting the receiving hospital, coordinating with local authorities, the list goes on. Amid all this, there is always the possibility of a data leak. Sensitive health data pertaining to the patient may fall into the hands of undesirable sources and lead to legal complications. Of course, the biggest concern for the medical flight services would be to remain in compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA. The act guides how and when data can be shared and patient consent requirements.
Application Programming Interface Can Help Medical Flight Services
Data transfer through an application programming interface, popularly known as API is ideal for medical flight services. Here the data transfer takes place between two computer systems without any manual intervention. Moreover, the data transfer takes place in an encrypted format, which makes data leaks impossible. It is a sure-shot way to ensure that a company that is involved in offering air ambulance services is shielded from the possible negative implications as a consequence of not following HIPAA rules inadvertently.
Training the Staff is Also Important
Building strong technology is important no doubt but that does not mean that the human element is ignored. Air ambulance services employ several people. These people may come in contact with patient data in one way or the other. For instance, the patient medical history in a document form is a necessity for in-flight care of the patient. It is, therefore, imperative that the staff is well aware of what constitutes sensitive data and how to handle it. Even a casual conversation about the patient with the wrong person can lead to legal hassles for the organization that offers medical flight services.
From time to time we bring you the latest developments in the air ambulance world. From the changes that the pandemic has brought about to the struggles of air ambulance charities to stay afloat, there is much happening in the space. We cover a few that have made the headlines and turned heads of the world.
Prince William Helps the Air Ambulance Industry Again
The cause of the air ambulance industry, which mainly runs on charity in the UK, is something that is very close to the heart of Prince William who has been a pilot himself. He has been seen helping organizations from time to time through various interventions. This time around, he has lent the lawn of his Kensington Palace residence to aid medical helicopters to refuel amid the pandemic. Without this option, air ambulance vehicles would have to travel an additional 20 miles. The prince is currently residing in their country home in Norfolk.
Air Ambulance Services are Serving Several Countries Amid the Pandemic
Evacuation of people has been a task that several air ambulance companies have taken up during the pandemic. Take for instance REVA a Florida-based medical flight company. Recently, the company had flown people to various parts of the United States, Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom. In this context, it must be noted that cross-border evacuation can be quite complex, especially with lockdowns in several parts of the world.
Great Western Air Ambulance Charity Reports Shortage of Funds
This UK-based charity has reported that it has witnessed a drop of 250,000 British pounds in its funds. The organization relies heavily on public funds to stay afloat. It had been of service to over 1,700 patients last year with each mission costing about 2,000 British pounds. With the lockdown restrictions easing slowly, the demand for its services is expected to grow and the charity is sure to be in a fix to meet this demand.
Every year, over 400,000 medical flight evacuations and rescues take place in the United States and each ride can cost up to $25,000. Going by these figures, it is obvious that the market potential is huge. This is a fact that has not gone unnoticed by private equity investors. It is, therefore, no surprise that the country has over 75 medical flight companies that have about 1,500 air ambulances. A big number no doubt but it also means that the market is competed out by these numbers. Now, add the burden of increasing security standards and the profit margins begin thinning significantly.
Medical Safety Standards Constantly Evolve
When you look at the number of medical flight accidents that take place, it is certainly much smaller than the road accidents that we witness every day. That’s because the safety standards of the industry are quite high. The reason behind this is the constantly evolving safety benchmarks laid down by institutions like the Federal Aviation Administration of the country. These agencies make it impossible for medical flight companies to adopt a lax attitude towards safety. They simply cannot fly without following the specified safety standards and defying them or trying to break the rules can result in license suspension, financial penalties and more.
Regulations are an Incentive for Safety
Regulations not only govern safety surrounding the customers, but they also cover the crew members. For instance, any medical flight taking to the skies in the evenings or in a bad light must equip its pilots with night vision technology. Coming to the cost of safety, this is one area where the medical flight industry is left in the lurch. The increasing costs are not given due consideration by the insurance companies forcing the medical flight companies to put the burden of payment on the end consumers.
Infections even after COVID-19 vaccinations are rare but not unheard of. Moreover, the world is today witness to newer variants of the virus and no one knows for sure where the mutations are headed. In this scenario, owing the right medical insurance is of utmost importance. It is every individual’s responsibility to understand what is covered under the insurance and what is not, especially when it comes to medical flight services. Finding out that you have inadequate coverage at the very last moment when you need a medical flight can be disastrous, especially since the cost can veer you towards bankruptcy.
Coverage for Medical Flight Services
Adequate medical flight insurance coverage is especially important for those who travel overseas. Of course, it goes without saying that a comprehensive travel insurance is important. However, not many people understand the importance of looking into the fine print about whether medical flight evacuations are covered or not. If covered, what is the kind of coverage that you would be getting. One must keep in mind that international medical flight evacuations can be extremely expensive and can run into several thousand dollars, often running into eight-digit bills.
What Coverage do you Need?
Some travel insurances will only offer to admit you to the nearest adequate medical facility. That means that you might end up with the best possible treatment but in a developing country or an underdeveloped country. On the other hand, if your insurance promises that you will get treatment closer to your home in your nation, it may necessitate a medical flight evacuation. What you want is a health insurance policy like that. The premium may be slightly higher, but you can breathe a sigh of relief and travel confidently to any corner of the globe. This is especially important in the context that much of the world remains without access to COVID-19 vaccination.
Medical flight personnel is often involved in highly tense situations where quick decision-making and execution can mean the difference between life and death. What does this mean? We are alluding to the need to engage the mind and both simultaneously without being deterred by tough situations. The training module of medical flight professionals must take this factor into consideration. Gamification of their training can achieve this effect. Of course, there is no comparison to real-life experience that these trained individuals will later get. However, gamification ensures that even rookies display better responses within a shorter period.
Designing the Right Training for Medical Flight Professionals is vital
Designing the curriculum and transforming it by introducing gamification is no small feat. Obviously, it is not something that a regular game designer or an academician can achieve. The effort demands that highly experienced professionals with real-time medical flight experience are involved. It is a giant step away from the regular classroom lecture. That said, it must be noted that how much ever mundane classroom lectures may seem, they cannot be done away with. Human interaction is always going to trump any other form of knowledge transfer.
How will Gamification Improve Learning?
Gamification, of course, uses technology as its crutch. However, it also enables this model of training to be personalized. One cannot expect a human trainer to devise a training program that is specific to each individual, but when you employ technology, this becomes easy. Machine learning algorithms can quickly understand each person’s speed of learning and adapt accordingly. Moreover, it is free of human emotions so things like frustration are never in the picture. You can ask a computer program to explain something of a medical flight to you any number of times with zero hesitation. Of course, the medical flight industry must first buy into this concept if it is to become a reality.
Here is some food for thought – ever wondered how many missions are spread around the world? According to a 2017 statistic, the number stands at 430 thousand. Close to 50 thousand of them around from the United States. These people do good work around the world helping people with education to healthcare. What happens when these missionaries get sick or are gravely injured? You guessed it right. Air ambulance services come to their rescue and fly them back to their home in the United States. Most of these missionaries work in the remotest parts of the African continent where healthcare can be less than adequate.
The Cost of International Air Ambulance Services Can Be Steep
The air ambulance cost can go up to 100 thousand dollars. Missionaries, of course, are compelled to rely on fund-raising efforts in order to be able to afford these air ambulance services. A Tampa-based company has changed this scenario to a very large extent. The air ambulance company specializes in offering international evacuation services specifically for missionaries. Not just that, the company has gone a step ahead and created customized insurances for evacuating missionaries from all over the world.
The Name of the Air Ambulance Company is Jet ICU
Almost all missions that are conducted by this air ambulance company involve missionaries across the world. There is no corner of the world that it hesitates to travel. Of course, it has also conducted evacuations of people who are not missionaries. The company owns a fleet of six fixed-wing aircraft and an employee pool of around 75. The customized insurance that the company has tried up with is called Missionary Travel Association, through the help of Lloyd’s of London. Most of the churches today across the United States rely on it today.
There was a time when simulators were known to be just an adjunct to the real training for pilots. The air ambulance industry would not recognize training received through simulators. However, the perception is changing today and fast. Increasingly, simulators are gaining in popularity as well as acceptance when it comes to pilot training. Today, they are an essential part of pilot training and many air ambulance companies rely on such simulators to keep their pilots well trained. Realistic helicopter simulator training is simply not what it used to be a few years ago.
Technology Adoption of the Air Ambulance Industry
The air ambulance industry has always been quick in adopting the latest technology. Thanks to the high processing speeds that we enjoy today, virtual pilot training can be achieved without any lags in the experience. The result is a realistic feel. Scenarios that cannot be produced in real life can be created in the virtual world today. This enriches the experience of the pilots during training, making them well-equipped for air ambulance rescues. Even highly experienced pilots swear by the life-like experience that these simulators are able to produce. Countries like Australia rely on this technology to provide rotary air ambulance training. Today, there are programs that are approved by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority of the country.
Flight-Specific Simulation is Today a Reality
Fixed-wing flight training has, since long, relied on simulation to a great extent. However, when it came to rotary-wing the prevalence of simulation training was sparse, but this is fast changing. All it takes is relating the equipment to computer programs that are powered by state-of-the-art computer processors. The result is a rich experience for the pilots, making them well-prepared for unexpected situations. The day is not too far when air ambulance pilots will receive licenses based only on simulation experience.
This week has seen some important developments in the air ambulance industry. However, the news has been a mixed bag of both good and bad. One thing though is for certain, the developments are quite interesting and noteworthy. Here, we have chosen the top three.
The US Government Agrees to Compensate for Destroyed Air Ambulance Helipad
Recently, a helicopter belonging to the United States Defence had destroyed a domestic helipad in the UK. The helipad belonged to Cambridge University Hospitals. The destruction was an inadvertent incident, wherein the structures within the air ambulance helipad were ripped off as the defense helicopter took off. It had left the site not worthy of landing air ambulance vehicles. However, it has now been reported that the United States Government has offered to repair the structures. Most of the air ambulance industry in the UK is charity-based and the steep cost of repairs is certainly a burden.
The US Supreme Court Ruling About Air Ambulance Bills
Texas Supreme Court had ruled that insurance companies were only liable to pay air ambulance service providers a sum that is deemed fair and reasonable when it comes to worker’s compensation cases. The issue had long been a bone of contention in the state. The decision was appealed against and had reached the US Supreme Court. The state’s ruling has now been held up by the top court of the country. The case was primarily fought by PHI Air Medical.
An International Surge in Demand Owing to Rising Pandemic in India
It is a well-known fact that India is struggling to cope up with the rising COVID-19 cases. At the same time, foreign nationals living in the country are looking for an exit. While some of them have already left, the unfortunate few who have contracted the virus are looking at the air ambulance industry to exit the country, leading to high demand.