When Do I Need an Air Ambulance?

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For those who need ambulance services during critical situations or for people who must be transported over long distances, an air ambulance may be the right choice for transport.

Air ambulances are designed to carry patients and pertinent personnel for medical care during emergencies and when there is a great distance to cover. They shorten the time that it takes to get a patient from one place to another, and if the patient is unstable or critically ill, air ambulances are life-saving options to get a person to a hospital quickly.

Air ambulances are not only used in emergency situations, they may also be implemented when a patient needs a non-emergency transport to another location that is far away. In these situations, it would not be economically sensible, nor physically possible, to transport someone by using a ground ambulance. An example of this type of situation might be if a patient is traveling and receives medical care during the trip, where he is then escorted home. This can take place across several states or provinces, or even between different countries.

An air escort system is sometimes used for non-emergency transport to get a patient from one place to another. In this situation, the patient is usually medically stable enough to tolerate a long-distance flight, and is escorted by medical personnel who are available to provide treatment if any complications arise. Medical escorts by nurses or paramedics also provide for a transfer of care between facilities. In other words, the medical escort is considered an extension of the sending healthcare facility, acting on its behalf to provide medical attention when needed. The patient is then under the care of the receiving facility once he arrives at the destination and the new facility takes over his care. The aircraft used for medical escorts over long distances can vary from small, fixed-wing planes to large, commercial jets.

Other types of air ambulances that might be used for long-distance transfers or critical situations are typically one of two different types of aircraft: a helicopter or a fixed-wing plane. Helicopters are often smaller craft, but can be used in emergency situations and they are easy to navigate in close areas. A helicopter needs a landing zone for which to land the craft and take off, and this could range from specific landing pad at a hospital to an open area near the scene of an accident. Because they are smaller, helicopters may have weight restrictions, which limits the number of people that are able to travel at once. They also cannot travel as long of distances as fixed-wing planes without having to stop and refuel. However, they are very useful for quickly crossing the distance to a medical facility and a patient can be loaded or unloaded right at the scene to receive prompt medical care. Helicopters are typically staffed with one or two pilots and specially trained paramedics, respiratory therapists and flight nurses.

A fixed-wing plane is another method of long-distance transport. The term “fixed-wing” means that the craft’s wings are stationary, rather than rotary, as in the case of a helicopter. Fixed-wing planes are bigger than helicopters but they can also travel greater distances without stopping to refuel. A fixed-wing plane is useful for transporting patients or medical deliveries, such as organs for transplant, over great distances, including transport from one state or province to another. This type of aircraft requires a larger landing zone and needs room for take-off and landing, typically at an airport. This then involves transporting a patient to and from the landing zone, which may add some time to the transfer overall. Fixed-wing planes are also staffed by one or two pilots, as well as nurses, paramedics, and other specialized medical personnel. They contain the medical equipment necessary to stabilize a patient and to provide medical support during the transfer.

Whether a patient needs to be transported for critical services or has a non-emergency situation that requires long-distance travel, air ambulances are a viable option. These specialty craft can quickly bring a patient across the miles while providing medical help and support all at the same time.

Meg Brannagan RN, BSN is a registered nurse with a Bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She has over 12 years of experience in both clinical nursing and medical writing. Meg first became certified as an EMT in 1997 before starting nursing school the next year. After graduation she worked in women’s and children’s health as well as neonatology. She has also worked as a neonatal transport RN, transporting critically ill and preterm infants for medical care.

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