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5 Reasons You Might Need an Air Ambulance

Ever wonder why you might need an air ambulance? This article has the details; straight from the experts.


Published on June 3rd, 2024 in Medical Evacuation

Air ambulances are primarily utilized to transport patients from inadequate levels of care to higher levels of care, or to repatriate them home if unable to travel via commercial flights.

These specialized aircraft are designed to navigate geographical barriers and provide the same level of medical care available in an intensive care unit. Air ambulances are also sometimes necessary if a patient needs long-distance or emergency transport and is unable to use a commercial flight due to their medical condition.

These airborne ICUs are equipped with cutting-edge medical technology and staffed by highly trained medical personnel, ready to manage a wide spectrum of medical emergencies en route to care facilities. This unique combination of speed, access, and comprehensive care capabilities positions air ambulances as a critical component of emergency medical services worldwide.

In this article, we’ll break down the top five reasons someone might require an air ambulance.

1. Patients in critical condition

When deciding if the use of an air ambulance is necessary, the first thing needed to consider is the condition of the patient. Air ambulances are basically flying ICUs, meaning they’re designed to keep people with severe injuries and medical conditions alive en route to a hospital, or even a stable patient who medically and physically is unable to travel on a commercial flight.

Examples of patients in critical condition might include:

  • Severe trauma
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Severe infections
  • Respiratory failure
  • Stroke or neurological conditions
  • Post-surgery complications
  • Severe Burns

The cost to operate an air ambulance is high, therefore they’re typically only used when no other form of transportation will work, such as a commercial flight.

For example, if a patient is recovering from a serious health condition but is able to walk, talk, and eat or drink, it might be more suitable to have that patient take a commercial flight under the care of a nurse escort.

Air ambulance services are vital for:

  • Their speed
  • Their ability to provide advanced medical attention en route during a medical emergency
  • Significantly enhancing the potential for positive patient outcomes in life-threatening medical emergencies

With the capability for rapid transport, they shrink distances and time, delivering patients to trauma centers and specialized care with a speed that ground transportation simply cannot match.

The priority handling afforded to these medical aircraft under the MEDEVAC call sign ensures that air traffic and ground operations streamline their path, enhancing their rapid response and making them the heroes of the hour.

While speed is essential, the increased level of care provided during transport is the most important consideration that dictates the need for an air ambulance.

Air ambulance teams, staffed with medical professionals who have honed their skills in ICU and emergency departments, are equipped to deliver specialized medical care mid-flight.

The comprehensive array of advanced medical equipment onboard makes these aircraft capable of managing a spectrum of medical emergencies with efficiency and expertise.

2. Patients in remote locations

Air ambulances are capable of overcoming topographical and distance barriers in a way that ground transportation cannot.

For example, the gathering point for a safari group in the grasslands of Africa may not have a world-class hospital, but if it has a dirt landing strip, an air ambulance can bring an advanced level of medical care to that location.

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Additionally, most remote areas do not have sufficient medical facilities for treating patients in critical condition, thus they’ll need to use an air ambulance to get patients to a suitable facility.

3. International medical evacuations

Air ambulances also provide a critical service in the global context, offering medical repatriation and facilitating international medical evacuations. They bridge the distance between countries, ensuring patient’s have access to the necessary medical care that may not be available locally.

With the complexities of international aviation regulations and the need for careful coordination across borders, these services exemplify the extensive capabilities and reach of air ambulances in delivering specialized medical care on a global scale.

Again, because of the costs and planning associated with an air ambulance, the patients condition must be that in which this is to be the best option (as opposed to a nurse escort on a commercial flight).

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4. Interhospital transfers

When a patient’s condition requires advanced procedures or treatments not available at their current location, air ambulances provide a crucial service in interhospital transfers. These aerial transfers are essential for rapidly moving patients to specialized medical facilities, enabling them to access treatments that could be lifesaving.

Whether it’s a need for urgent surgery or advanced medical care, air ambulances play a pivotal role in optimizing patient outcomes and ensuring that distance is not a barrier to receiving the best possible treatment.

The decision to employ an air ambulance for transferring a patient is a balance of speed, the level of care required en route, and the potential benefits of advanced care.

This service ensures patients have access to specialized medical facilities and procedures that can offer them the best chance for recovery.

The meticulous preparation and stabilization of patients before air transport are critical to maintaining their condition during the journey, allowing for the safest and most effective transportation to the care they need.

5. Organ transplantation

Perhaps one of the most time-sensitive and delicate procedures facilitated by air ambulances is organ transplantation. The rapid transport of organs and patients is essential to the success of transplantation procedures, and air ambulances provide the speed and care necessary to ensure that organs remain viable and that patients arrive in time for their life-saving surgeries.

The coordination required for these transfers is a testament to the precision and efficiency of air ambulance services in managing the logistics of organ transplantation.

Air ambulance services embody the intersection of rapid response, advanced medical care, and logistical mastery.

From the swift transport during time-sensitive emergencies to navigating geographical barriers these services are a testament to human ingenuity and compassion. As we’ve seen, the collaboration between skilled medical teams and advanced technology aboard air ambulances ensures that every patient has the chance to receive the specialized care they need, no matter where they are.

Next steps: Your options if you need an air ambulance

We hope you enjoyed this deep dive on medical evacuation via air ambulances. Obviously, it’s a situation everyone wants to avoid, but if you do end up needing this service, it’s best to be prepared.

Here are a few different ways in which an air ambulance may be coordinated:

1. Health insurance

As we mentioned earlier, it’s not always clear who will be on the hook for the bill of a medical evacuation, which can be steep. Your insurance company may cover all, most, or none of it, depending on the circumstances. We recommend reviewing your medical coverage to determine exclusions and limitations and out-of-pocket costs.

Keep in mind—insurance is designed to help you with the bill after the fact. You will likely need to personally work with emergency personnel and local authorities to make the actual plans for the air ambulance transportation.

2. Travel insurance

Some travel insurance plans have specialized policies that cover the use of air ambulances for certain qualifying events or will cover a maximum dollar amount for the transport. Similar to health insurance, of course, is that again, you will likely pay out-of-pocket and have to file a claim to be reimbursed for the cost once the incident is over.

Travel insurance providers typically do not offer assistance with the coordination of air ambulance services.

3. Travel assistance

With an Emergency Assistance Plus® (EA+®) membership, however, you can be confident that if you need medical evacuation services, EA+ will arrange and provide the critical services at no cost to you, so that you can focus on getting better and getting the care you need, not the costs or logistics to make it happen. And on top of that, EA+ will also see that you get back home.

Should a medical emergency derail your travel, EA+ has you protected no matter where you are.

Check out our website to see exactly how a travel assistance membership from EA+ can protect you on your trips with medical evacuation services—and a lot more!

Frequently asked questions

What are the advantages of air ambulance?

Air ambulances offer specialized medical care during transport, time-sensitive transfers to specialized medical facilities, and long-distance transfers, including repatriation from foreign countries. In addition, air medical transport provides increased speed and maneuverability compared to ground transportation, which is limited by factors such as road availability, conditions, and traffic.

Why would you go in an air ambulance?

You would go in an air ambulance to quickly reach specialized medical facilities, such as trauma or stroke centers, which offer essential care not available in local hospitals, potentially improving your chances of survival and recovery. Additionally, if you’re unable to be transported back home via commercial air travel with a medical escort, you may require air ambulance transport.

What is the ‘golden hour’ in medical emergencies?

The ‘golden hour’ in medical emergencies is the critical first hour after a traumatic injury or onset of a medical emergency, during which prompt medical treatment significantly increases the chances of survival. Therefore, receiving medical treatment within this window is crucial for improving the chances of survival.

Can air ambulances operate in any weather conditions?

Air ambulances are designed to fly in various weather conditions, but extreme weather can impact their operations, potentially causing delays or complications.

What kind of medical personnel are typically onboard an air ambulance?

Air ambulances typically have highly trained medical personnel, including paramedics, nurses, physicians, and respiratory therapists, who are specialized in flight physiology and aeromedical transport.

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