On any given day in America, there are hundreds of patients, families, and healthcare professionals searching for medical air transportation options. Whether it’s an urgent situation that calls for a helicopter extraction, or a fixed-wing transfer for a patient who is severely ill or injured and needs to be moved to better care, medical air transport services are always available and ready to serve.
But what are the choices? For most of us, we’ll never need an air ambulance. We might not even know what options are available in the rare instances that we require a medical air transport. Do we request a helicopter? A propeller plane? Do we grit our teeth and fly commercially? Do we request a medically configured jet aircraft?
Breaking it Down. The Types of Medical Air Transport
With a wide variety of terms describing the service, from “air ambulance” and “medical flights” to “medical air transportation”, the companies that serve patients and hospitals have a single goal in common – to move a patient quickly and safely to the next level of care.
For rotary service, medical air transportation revolves around immediate response to a critically urgent situation. In this case, the transport crew is quick to the call in order to relocate the patient as fast as possible. Typically, this involves accessing difficult locations – a roadway, a rooftop, hiking areas, or anything rural.
For fixed wing medical air transport services, the transport is often very different. By this time, the patient has typically been stabilized, and is being transported to a more appropriate level of care. This could be from a hospital to a Level 1 or 2 trauma center, a center of excellence that specializes in rehabilitation, or even a return home when commercial transportation is no longer viable.
With fixed wing medical air transports, airplanes are often configured as “flying ICUs”, with a vast array of equipment, including a LifePort Plus System, a ventilator, onboard oxygen, heart monitor, and other equipment needed to administer advanced level of medical care. For reputable companies, flights are staffed with a critical care nurse and critical care paramedic, both who have extensive training in providing top-notch care and treatment to patients in transit.
Fixed Wing Medical Air Transport Choices
Once the decision has been made that a medical air transport is better suited to a fixed wing aircraft, patients have another choice to make. Propeller plane or jet aircraft?
For rural areas with small runways, the choice is clear. Propeller based planes are typically smaller, lighter, and don’t require the runway length of a jet aircraft. While the range and air speed of the smaller planes is less, it could be a perfectly acceptable range for a particular patient and condition.
With fixed wing jet aircraft, medical air transports gain altitude flexibility, with many of the planes flying at high as 45,000 feet to avoid unsafe turbulence and other potentially harmful conditions due to inclement weather. Top rated companies fly medically configured business class jets that zip through the sky at nearly the speed of sound – getting the patient to proper care as fast and safe as possible.
For medical transports requiring long-distance travel, jet aircraft are nearly always better suited for the mission. Patients trapped outside of the country due to illness or injury need to be repatriated quickly. Medical air transports via jet service bring with it the peace of mind that no matter the distance from home, proper medical care starts the moment the patient is onboard.
- 85 million Americans can access Level 1 or Level 2 trauma centers within 60 minutes, but only if they are flown by air ambulance.
- Over 30 million Americans have no access to a Level 1 or Level 2 trauma center within 60 minutes, no matter the transport modality.
Source: IBIS, equity research, ADAMS Atlas of Air Medical Services, American Hospital Association
Tips for Choosing Your Medical Air Transport Company
1. Choose an accredited air ambulance company. There are many companies out there, and many brokers who pose as real companies. Do your research and make sure the medical air transport that you choose is accredited by a third party. Organizations like NAAMTA, CAMTS, and Eurami ensure an adherence to the industry’s highest medical care and operational standards.
2. Inquire into the details of the credentials of the medical flight crew. Do they hold advanced certifications in critical care for both the flight nurse and paramedic?
3. Is the air ambulance company heavily engaged in the industry they serve? Do they have partnerships with medical centers of excellence, and are they active in healthcare as proven transportation partner with doctors, nurses, and case managers nationwide?
4. Look into the company on social media to see what others are saying about them. Do they have a large following of engaged fans and followers? Do they celebrate their medical air transports by showcasing successful transfers and happy patients? Are they active across different social channels or was the last post from over 3 months ago? Common social sites to cross-reference include Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.
5. Check the review sites. How does the air ambulance company rank with past patients and healthcare professionals? Do they consistently deliver a positive experience for their customers? In this day and age, it’s very simple to view customer sentiment as it’s happening. We recommend checking the medical air transport reviews for each company you are considering on Google, Facebook, Trustpilot, and even the BBB.
In conclusion, we hope that this guide has provided greater insight into the different types of medical air transportation options available. Rotary service, fixed-wing propeller, and fixed-wing jet are all the most prevalent today, each serving a specific requirement. There is overlap, with fixed wing perfectly capable of handling some helicopter transportations, and a great deal of interchange between fixed wing propeller and jet service for shorter medical air transports. In the end, it all depends on the urgency of your unique situation, and the level of care needed for the patient.
Ready to fly? Check out our Medical Flight Guide for Patients and Families