Article

Helicopter transport: Help or hindrance?

Department of Surgery, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA.
Current opinion in critical care (Impact Factor: 3.18). 12/2011; 17(6):596-600. DOI: 10.1097/MCC.0b013e32834c5655
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Traumatic injury continues to be a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in the year 2011. In addition, the healthcare expenditures and lost years of productivity represent significant economic cost to the affected individuals and their communities. Helicopters have been used to transport trauma patients for the past 40 years, but there are conflicting data on the benefits of helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) in civilian trauma systems. Debate persists regarding the mortality benefit, cost-effectiveness, and safety of helicopter usage, largely because the studies to date vary widely in design and generalizability to trauma systems serving heterogeneous populations and geography. Strict criteria should be established to determine when HEMS transport is warranted and most likely to positively affect patient outcomes. Individual trauma systems should conduct an assessment of their resources and needs in order to most effectively incorporate helicopter transport into their triage model.
Research suggests that HEMS improves mortality in certain subgroups of trauma patients, both after transport from the scene of injury and following interfacility transport. Studies examining the cost-effectiveness of HEMS had mixed results, but the majority found that it is a cost-effective tool. Safety remains an issue of contention with HEMS transport, as helicopters are associated with significant safety risk to the crew and patient. However, this risk may be justified provided there is a substantial mortality benefit to be gained.
Recent studies suggest that strict criteria should be established to determine when helicopter transport is warranted and most likely to positively affect patient outcomes. Individual trauma systems should conduct an assessment of their resources and needs in order to most effectively incorporate HEMS into their triage model. This will enable regional hospitals to determine if the costs and safety risks associated with HEMS are worthwhile given the potential benefits to patient morbidity and mortality.

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    • "Secondly, HEMS medical crew members are supposed to be more experienced in trauma management improving preclinical treatment of traumatised patients [8] [9]. At least, improved triaging is suggested to result in transportation to a specialist trauma centre avoiding inter-hospital transfers [10]. Despite these expected beneficial aspects, the effects of HEMS transport on posttraumatic outcome also revealed varying results [5]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background Helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) has been established in the preclinical treatment of multiple traumatised patients despite an ongoing controversy towards the potential benefit. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of TraumaRegister DGU® of the German Trauma Society (DGU) the presented study intended to provide an overview of HEMS rescue in Germany over the last 10 years analysing the potential beneficial impact of a nationwide helicopter rescue in multiple traumatised patients. Patients and methods We analysed TraumaRegister DGU® including multiple traumatised patients (ISS ≥16) between 2002 and 2012. In-hospital mortality was defined as main outcome. An adjusted, multivariate regression with 13 confounders was performed to evaluate the potential survival benefit. Results 42,788 patients were included in the present study. 14,275 (33.4%) patients were rescued by HEMS and 28,513 (66.6%) by GEMS. Overall, 66.8% (n = 28,569) patients were transported to a level I trauma centre and 28.2% (n = 12,052) to a level II trauma centre. Patients rescued by HEMS sustained a higher injury severity compared to GEMS (ISS HEMS: 29.5 ± 12.6 vs. ISS GEMS: 27.5 ± 11.8). Helicopter rescue teams performed more on-scene interventions, and mission times were increased in HEMS rescue (HEMS: 77.2 ± 28.7 min. vs. GEMS: 60.9 ± 26.9 min.). Linear regression analysis revealed that the frequency of HEMS rescue has decreased significantly between 2002 and 2012. In case of transportation to level I trauma centres a decrease of 1.7% per year was noted (p < 0.001) while a decline of 1.6% per year (p < 0.001) was measured for level II trauma centre admissions. According to multivariate logistic regression HEMS was proven a positive independent survival predictor between 2002 and 2012 (OR 0.863; 95%-CI 0.800–0.930; Nagelkerkes-R2 0.539) with only little differences between each year. Conclusions This study was able to prove an independent survival benefit of HEMS in multiple traumatised patients during the last 10 years. Despite this fact, a constant decline of HEMS rescue missions was found in multiple trauma patients due to unknown reasons. We concluded that HEMS should be used more often in case of trauma in order to guarantee the proven benefit for multiple traumatised patients.
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    ABSTRACT: Since the introduction of helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) into the civilian rescue system, there is an ongoing discussion on its potential benefits in terms of time- and cost-effectiveness as well as clinical outcome improvement. Currently, the use of HEMS seems to provide a survival benefit in traumatized patients due to several aspects compared to ground emergency medical service (GEMS). First of all, HEMS facilitate rapid transport from the scene to hospital based on increased transportation velocity. Furthermore, HEMS medical crew members are experienced in trauma management resulting in improved on-scene management and patients' triaging. However, these aspects should be considered carefully as specific circumstances referring to rescue teams, on-scene management as well as preclinical durations, triaging of trauma patients and subsequent treatment at different hospitals have to be attended. In the present review current aspects of HEMS compared to GEMS are discussed.
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