A medical flight is an air ambulance service provided to the sick and those with injuries. It is of great benefit because it reduces significantly the time taken to transport a patient from one destination to another. This service is essential especially where a patient is critically injured or is seriously ill and requires urgent specialized treatment.
Organizations providing air ambulance services need to maintain a uniform standard for all their airplanes, medical equipment and professional staff. The quality of service they provide is governed by two factors:
- High standards for the airplanes used and medical equipment fitted into the air ambulance: In this business, jets are the preferred mode of transport because they are more economical and eliminate the need for making transit stops to refuel the plane. Jets such as the Lear jet have wide doors, which allow the patient easy entry/exit from the plane. It is ideal for both short distances and long-range flights.
- An advanced training program: The medical staff needs to undergo a rigorous training program to qualify to serve as flight personnel. This ensures adherence to high standards of performance amongst flight personnel.
Some air ambulance services require two pilots on every medical flight while others use only one pilot. However, having two pilots on board enhances safety. This is essential especially in an emergency because two minds are better than one. Two medical personnel should also accompany the pilots. The medical personnel should have significant experience in ER and ICU operations. They should be conversant with flight physiology. Additional medical personnel may also accompany the patient if the situation so demands.
To put the patient at ease, one or two friends/relatives of the patient should accompany the patient free of charge. Having a friend with them significantly reduces stress levels.
The most common users of air ambulance services are patients suffering from trauma, respiratory conditions requiring ventilators, patients who have head injuries and cardiovascular complications.
FAA requires installation of the Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (RVSM) for all aircraft flying above 29,000 feet. Flying at such an altitude ensures faster travel and comfort for the patient. Flying below 29,000 feet on the other hand, exposes the patient to unnecessary discomfort. It also compromises safety because of the need for additional fuel stops, increased transit times involving a possible change of crew and flying in turbulent weather conditions.
Air ambulance services provide three levels of care:
- Basic life support: Such care is for persons who have relatively minor medical conditions, probably requiring oxygen or IV supplementation.
- Advance life support: patients requiring this category of care need higher levels of attention. There is need for increased monitoring of their condition on a continuous basis with access to IV facilities and drug transfusion.
- Critical care support: a patient in need of such specialist support will need constant monitoring, frequent drug administration, use of ventilators and other specialist gadgets that help to sustain life in an emergency.
It is important to talk to air ambulance personnel to determine if a patient needs to use their services. Depending on the condition of the patient, they may recommend use of ground ambulance or an air ambulance. However, the patient’s safety is most important and the decision made should focus on that.