A Brief Overview of Emergency Air Ambulance Services

An air ambulance is generally characterized as a specialized helicopter or fixed wing aircraft, which is used in both emergency and non-emergency situations. Air ambulance services are generally favored in emergency situations to implement the quick evacuation of critically injured or ill people. They are less often implemented to transfer patients to a hospital, or facility for specialized treatment.

The Benefits of Air Ambulance Services

The benefits of aerial medical transport were recognized years before the invention of the plane, with hot air balloons being used to evacuate injured soldiers during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. Air evacuation of the wounded using helicopters later became common place practice during skirmishes such as the Vietnam and Iraq wars. This was owing to the fact that helicopters could be used to reach remote destinations in short amounts of time, and treatment of patients by qualified personnel could commence as soon as they were in the aircraft.

Contemporary air ambulances are generally used in much the same way, collecting critical patients from extremely remote destinations such as small rural towns, offshore oil rigs and small isolated islands. These air ambulance services are often the only access that these small communities have to emergency healthcare, as ground or sea transport would take far too long and would most likely result in increased mortality rates.

Even in areas where conventional ground emergency services are available, air ambulance services are often favored, as air transport is seen as being inherently faster than ground transport under most circumstances. It has also been widely proposed that a decreased response time results in better long term outcomes for the patient.

The Disadvantages of Air Ambulance Services

Some studies are less flattering when it comes to air transport services, with numerous studies finding no significant difference between air ambulance and conventional ground ambulance response times. It has been argued by one study in particular that distances of less than 66 kilometers without extremely adverse road conditions, are best covered by conventional ground emergency transportation.

This is proposed due to the fact that many air ambulances are generally based in larger settlements, meaning that the flight time from the large settlement to the event must also be taken into account. Some studies such as Chappell et al. (2002) have even argued that total transport time actually is longer when using air transportation services opposed to ground services.

The major disadvantage however, regarding air ambulance programs is the extremely high operational costs, which generally occur due to factors such as: the lease or purchase of aircraft, maintenance, fuel and specialized personnel. The average air medical transportation program in the United States in 1995 was estimated to cost approximately 2 million dollars, which has caused several hospitals in the US to reevaluate, or canceled their flight programs altogether, in an attempt to save money.

In conclusion, air ambulance services disputably have certain pitfalls however; there are still many advantages and benefits that these programs offer, especially to patients in remote and rural areas. It is believed that without these services many patients would go without proper emergency medical care, which would in turn result in unnecessary fatalities.