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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    ABSTRACT: Mortality benefit has been demonstrated for trauma patients transported via helicopter but at great cost. This study identified patients who did not benefit from helicopter transport to our facility and demonstrates potential cost savings when transported instead by ground. We performed a 6-year (2007-2013) retrospective analysis of all trauma patients presenting to our center. Patients with a known mode of transfer were included in the study. Patients with missing data and those who were dead on arrival were excluded from the study. Patients were then dichotomized into helicopter transfer and ground transfer groups. A subanalysis was performed between minimally injured patients (ISS < 5) in both the groups after propensity score matching for demographics, injury severity parameters, and admission vital parameters. Groups were then compared for hospital and emergency department length of stay, early discharge, and mortality. Of 5,202 transferred patients, 18.9% (981) were transferred via helicopter and 76.7% (3,992) were transferred via ground transport. Helicopter-transferred patients had longer hospital (p = 0.001) and intensive care unit (p = 0.001) stays. There was no difference in mortality between the groups (p = 0.6).On subanalysis of minimally injured patients there was no difference in hospital length of stay (p = 0.1) and early discharge (p = 0.6) between the helicopter transfer and ground transfer group. Average helicopter transfer cost at our center was $18,000, totaling $4,860,000 for 270 minimally injured helicopter-transferred patients. Nearly one third of patients transported by helicopter were minimally injured. Policies to identify patients who do not benefit from helicopter transport should be developed. Significant reduction in transport cost can be made by judicious selection of patients. Education to physicians calling for transport and identification of alternate means of transportation would be both safe and financially beneficial to our system. Epidemiologic study, level III. Therapeutic study, level IV.
    Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 03/2015; 78(3). DOI:10.1097/TA.0000000000000553 · 1.97 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Introduction. EAMT in Taiwan has experienced increasing demand in the past few years. The objective is to analyze the trend of EAMT in the past six years and mortality rate within three days of patients undergoing interfacility transport in Taiwan. Material and Method. We conducted a retrospective review of patients who were airlifted from remote islands to main island between 2006 and 2011. Main outcome measures are EAMT number (EAMT-N), EAMT per thousand population (EAMT frequency, EAMT-F), number of mortality (Mor-N), and mortality rate within three days after EAMT (Mor-R). Results and Discussion. Overall mortality rate is 7.54% in 1684 airlifted patients. Acute myocardial infarction (AMI, 26.3%) and traumatic brain injury (TBI, 25.8%) comprise the majority in diagnosis (52.1%). However, Mor-R in these two categories is significantly low in AMI (3.5%) and TBI (5.1%). Conclusion. The present study demonstrates that physician density is not related to EAMT-N but to physician number. As general population ages (10%), the average age of patient who underwent EAMT doubled (21%). This study also leaves room for discussion regarding futile medical care. The results can be used as a reference for increasing utilization of EAMT in current National Health Care Scheme.
    BioMed Research International 08/2014; 2014:767402. DOI:10.1155/2014/767402 · 2.71 Impact Factor
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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.
    Injury 10/2014; 45:S53–S58. DOI:10.1016/j.injury.2014.08.018 · 2.46 Impact Factor


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May 23, 2014