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 COVID-19 situation has caused a lot of problems throughout the country. The treatment expenses sometimes are very huge and the need for treatment highly urgent. A family from Central Florida was in one such situation. A family member had contracted the COVID-19 infection and was on a ventilator. The hospital that he was being treated had conveyed to the family that the patient needed to be transported to a more appropriate facility. The family had then contacted a medical flight company to transport the patient. The cost of the flight was going to be over USD 16,000 and the medical flight company had helped the family set up a GoFundMe page.
The Medical Flight Service was Not Availed by the Family
There are two versions that are currently going around. The family, on its part, revealed that they had canceled the medical flight due to certain apprehensions and the constant demand from the medical flight company for funds. They had arranged for another air ambulance service and had conveyed it to the first company. However, they later found that about USD 8,000 was withdrawn from the fund by the medical flight company.
The Version of the Medical Flight Company
The medical flight company said that the family was insisting that the patient be transported despite the treating physician not giving permission to do so. For this reason, the flight had to be rescheduled. Further, this had gone on for quite a few days. They revealed that, ultimately, they had got a text message that they no longer needed the medical flight service and the patient’s family had stopped responding to their attempts at communication. In fact, the air ambulance company had already arrived, ready to transport the patient when the cancellation was conveyed through the text message. Due to this, the air ambulance company had charged the family USD 8,000.
Medical air transport is going to play a crucial role in the days to come as we had predicted earlier. For instance, the doctors in certain rural parts of the United States are predicting a surge in patient intake due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An unsustainable demand for quality medical care is on the horizon. The country today is witnessing a record-breaking increase in infections, and they are not limited to the urban parts of the country. Medical air transport is slated to be of extreme importance to offer patients the care they truly deserve. The industry too seems prepared for this second surge of infections.
Medical Air Transport Industry is Prepared
We know much more about the COVID-19 infection today. Complications that require ventilator support and even lung transplant in some instances have been factored in. The medical air transport vehicles today are equipped to handle such complications. More importantly, medical experts have now gained enough knowledge that they know patients might even need to be sedated throughout the journey, and they are ready for eventualities like these. Such need arises due to the agony that the infection causes in some serious cases.
The Number of Emergency Calls Has Gone Up
During the first wave of infections, people were not very keen on venturing out. However, due to the persistence of the pandemic, it is now economically impossible for people to stay away from their jobs. This has led to an increased number of people getting out of their homes and consequently, there is an increase in road accidents, etc, which demand the services of the medical air transport industry. The fact coupled with the increased number of infections and the shortage of appropriate medical facilities in rural communities has led to an unprecedented demand for air ambulances. The only solace in this scenario is the preparedness of the medical air transport industry, which is very high.
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.
Medical flights that are considered safe to carry patients infected by COVID-19 are seeing a huge bump in demand at the current time. The surge in demand started in about March and continues to hold strong. The COVID-19 infection numbers have seen a temporary remission but have been on a rise recently. Medical flights have been a great source for repatriation during these troubled times. The fact that the world is now slowly opening up despite the high number of infections is adding fuel to the existing demand.
Medical Flights Find it Easier to Cross Borders Now
Earlier when the COVID-19 had just hit the world, nations across the globe had closed their borders. This had posed a logistical challenge as the process to obtain special permission to enter some nations can be quite long-drawn and tedious. However, at the current time, most countries are opening their borders with some safety precautions being put in place. The world today realizes the fact that hiding from the virus is no solution, rather it is the will to fight it through adequate precautions that matter. This attitude has benefited the medical flights that conduct repatriations.
Many People are Still Stuck in Foreign Countries
COVID-ready medical flights are seeing that most of their flights are beyond their home countries. It is natural that in today’s highly connected world, many people live abroad and do so for years. For someone who has been outside for years together, it isn’t easy to leave everything and head back home. However, if one contracts the infection – especially if it is severe – the preference usually is to seek treatment close to the loved ones. Medical flights are the only recourse in situations like these. With the resurgence of infections in most European countries and part of the United States, the demand for medical flights is slated to go up further.
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.
ECMO or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine is a device that takes over some of the functions of the heart and lungs, thus providing the much-needed rest for both these vital organs. It has been seen that a malfunction of lungs is a major cause of COVID-19 fatalities. At times, patients have needed a lung transplant to stay alive. A South Korean woman aged 56 years was in a similar situation recently and was fighting for her life in Mexico. She had developed pulmonary fibrosis due to the underlying COVID-19 infection. The only way to survive was a lung transplant.
Air Ambulance to the Patient’s Rescue
Lung transplant is a major medical procedure, and naturally, the Korean woman and her family wanted to get it done in their own country. South Korea enjoys a robust healthcare system just like the United States. Moreover, it is always better to undergo a major procedure surrounded by people that one is familiar with. However, there was one problem. The woman had to be flow in this critical condition for an extended period. This is when the ECMO machine came into the picture. The air ambulance used was literally an ICU with this equipment.
The Air Ambulance Creates a Record in the Process
The US-based air ambulance Jet Rescue was tasked with this challenge. After extensive consultation with medical experts, it was deemed that the risk was worth taking to save the woman’s life. A Learjet-36 was chosen for the task. The journey was chalked out by scheduling periodic stops for oxygen and fuel refills. The air ambulance finally took off and successfully transported the patient to South Korea. During the process, the air ambulance company made a record. It now holds the distinction of being the longest medical flight with an ECMO machine onboard. The feat is quite an encouragement as this equipment can prove life-saving for patients with COVID-19 infection.
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.