The air ambulance industry has a poor safety record. Most of the industry crashes involve EMS helicopters rather than airplanes. The EMS helicopter fatal accident rate is 6000 times that of commercial airliners. As it turns out, flying an EMS helicopter is one of the most dangerous jobs in America.
The industry tries to justify the poor safety record by pointing to the “need for speed.” While acknowledging that the risk of a crash is many times greater for a patient traveling in an EMS helicopter than a ground ambulance, the industry argues that the additional risk is justified because the patient riding in a helicopter usually gets to the hospital sooner.
That argument has always been questionable. Now, however, it seems that at least one operator is dropping the pretense altogether. According to SkyHealth, a brand new contractor providing helicopter services to Yale-New Haven hospital patients, it’s really not about speed at all. It’s really about the equipment on board the helicopter.
When you’re talking about using the helicopter for critical-care patients, people think it’s all about speed. . . But it’s not about getting to the hospital faster. It’s really about being able to provide care during transport from one hospital to another.”
The new operator reports that it is flying patients every other day. But it’s not rushing trauma victims from accidents sites to emergency rooms as you might expect. Instead, it is moving stable patients from one hospital to another.
With the copter, ‘you don’t have out of hospital time because the crew in the hospital can do the same things as the [ICU]. . .It’s a higher level of care than our ground transport.
Wouldn’t it be safer for these patients and cheaper to simply upgrade the care available in a ground ambulance?