If there is one thing that’s constant about medical flights, it is the fact that the industry is continually reinventing itself. From electric medical flights that are capable of vertical takeoff to dashboards that keep the crew updated with all the information they need during the flight, the sector is full of innovations. However, these innovations bring along something that the industry and its consumers do not desire, and that is the increase in costs. Balancing costs and enhanced efficiency is something that the industry has grappled with for quite some time. The question that arises is whether the innovations are proving too expensive for the industry.
The Rising Cost of Medical Flights has been a Long-Time Concern
The cost of medical flights never fails to make headlines. When middle-class families get slapped with huge air ambulance bills, eyebrows are naturally raised. The insurance coverage is often non-existent or so scant that they fail to cover the costs.
Innovations, in the midst of all this, can prove to be an added cost burden discouraging the industry to go ahead with them. Contributing further to it is the training and adaptation cost that adds fuel to fire. Then, what is the solution?
Rethinking the Least Likely Spaces
Fuel is one area that is a money burner. Aviation fuel does not come cheap. Moreover, the fuel itself is heavy, which translates into a need for more fuel to carry it. What if a predictive technology can be innovated to maintain optimum fuel levels? The other area is the material that goes into building the medical flights. What if the material that is lighter and less friction-causing is innovated? The list goes on. Of course, the focus needs to be trained on affordability.
All the research should ideally be funded by governments, communities, and corporates together with industry leaders. A model like this can truly take the costs in the right direction.
Innovations in the medical flight industry are exciting, to say the least. The penchant for doing something new is always is never missing. The industry is known to encourage innovations that make medical flights more efficient, safe, and cheap. Treading this exact line is the newest innovation that stems from Australia. Capable of carrying four passengers at one go, this new medical flight can zoom at speeds of 186 miles per hour but that fact is not what makes it so special. This scientific wonder can fly a distance of 155 miles on battery. If you felt that was an impressive distance, digest this: it can go up to 500 miles on a hydrogen power train. Impressive, isn’t it?
The Uniqueness of the Medical Flight
Fitted with a total of eight propellers, the medical flight is capable of vertical takeoff and is considered to be safer than traditional helicopters. Made of carbon fiber for lightweight as well as sturdiness, the innovation is capable of transforming the medical flight industry. The company which makes this aerial vehicle, AMSL Aero, is developing it in conjunction with CareFlight to cater to the industry. Along with its high energy efficiency, it also produces less noise, which means patients will be more comfortable traveling in it.
The Cost is Much Lesser
It is believed that maintaining and running this medical flight will cost as little as a car in the future. Moreover, it can be flown with or without a pilot. Once in the market, the air ambulance will be the answer to healthcare access for rural communities, which are currently facing a shortage of hospitals and depend on medical flights for access to appropriate medical care in the urban areas. Moreover, it has other applications too. It can be deployed to put out the forest fires that are such a problem the world over today.
Medical flights can fly above almost any terrain but landing can be a worry. Rappelling from choppers has its own risk, putting the lives of the rescuers and the injured in grave danger. Spinning out of control and hitting adjacent rocks in a mountainous environment are just a few of the risks. That said, for people stranded in the toughest of the terrain with no access to roads, medical flights are the only recourse. However, these too are not without logistical restrictions. Reaching the stranded ones, especially when they are injured, is a logistical nightmare. Getting the medical staff to such terrains is almost impossible, and the people, who can reach them, often lack the medical expertise.
Jet Suits Can Further the Reach of Medical Flights
Imagine donning a jet suit to bounce out of medical flights, reaching the injured on time, and flying back again into the air ambulance. That can do wonders, right? While it might seem like a scene from a James Bond movie, it may soon become a reality. In fact, a British company is currently working towards exactly this. The company that is behind this brilliant effort is Gravity Industries. The organization recently released a video where they simulated a rescue mission in a jet suit.
About the Simulation
The simulation published by the company shows a paramedic pilot in a jet suit, traversing tough terrains to rescue an injured 10-year-old girl. The entire effort takes just about 90 seconds, whereas the same rescue on foot would take about an hour and a half. The suit makes way for travel at an astounding 51 km per hour and can move horizontally as well as vertically. If this is finally good enough for use in real-life situations, it can augment the efforts of medical flights to a huge extent. For now, we will just have to wait and watch, hoping that it becomes a reality soon.
Several countries around the world have progressed much further than the United States when it comes to drones. Take for instance, the East African Nation, Rwanda. The country has been using drones in lieu of air ambulances to transport medical necessities during emergencies. Of course, these might not be as efficient as air ambulances yet, but the day is not far when drones would be much more useful. Rwanda is a country where roads are far from being ideal and drone technology is seen as a respite. Come to think of it, rural America too can benefit from this concept.
The Prevalence Gap between Air Ambulances and Drones in the US
The US skies are dotted with a lot of airplanes, which of course include air ambulances. The drones on the other hand can be a hindrance. In fact, there have been several instances where drones have proven to be a nuisance for air ambulances and commercial flights. The necessity, therefore, is for a regulation that strikes the right balance. Also, general drone enthusiasts should also proactively show more responsibility. The other area that needs a closer look is innovation in the field of medical drones where they can at least play the part of supplementing efforts of air ambulances.
The Government Encouragement for Medical Drones
The congress, at the present time, is in the process of considering a bipartisan legislature called Drone Backlog Reduction Act. The intent of this legislation is to encourage innovation and ensure safety of medical drones. Once that is achieved, it will become easier to get the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration to use medical drones more extensively. At the current time, the use of drone is also severely limited by the norms laid down by the Federal Aviation Administration. If all goes well, the people will benefit from innovations in medical drones immensely.
Imagine this: the medical flight has emergency personnel seated in it and is en route to pick up a patient in a remote area but there’s one crucial member of the crew missing. Guess who? The pilot! Yes, that’s right! The medical flight technology is slowly moving toward autonomous flights that are sans pilots. If this sounds like science fiction to you, here’s a surprise. SkyRyse, which is a Silicon Valley start up, is already testing autonomous helicopters in emergency settings. It is known to have carried police and emergency personnel safely in response to mock emergency calls and the testing will continue.
How Safe is the Autonomous Medical Flight Technology?
Experts feel that it is quite safe. It is believed that the flights use the same technology that is used in driverless cars. A combination of software and hardware that is continually monitored from the control room and a medical flight that is controlled by itself – that about sums up what this technology is all about. Although the technology is still in a nascent stage, it will make huge strides in the days to come. A lot of this technology’s development will depend on machine learning and artificial intelligence which will allow it to learn the nuances of flying without any human intervention.
The Factors that will Make this Technology a Success
Ask yourself this question, “Am I ready to take a medical flight that does not have a pilot?” Trust of the customers in the new technology is going to be a decisive factor. Then there is the cost. It is a tussle between the cost of acquiring such a technology and the return on investment that it ultimately brings. Will this new technology demand high maintenance cost? Or will it reduce it? Regulations are another factor. Innovations that have the potential to give rise to safety risks typically take longer to get government approvals. For now, it’s a wait and watch for all of us.