When Is An Air Ambulance Needed?

Health & Medical Blog

Everyone is familiar with ground ambulances, which are often used to transport patients from a scene of an accident to an emergency room. This method works for the majority of cases. However, there are occasions when an air ambulance is crucial. An air ambulance is either a helicopter or a small, fixed-wing airplane used to transport medical patients. There are lots of elements to consider when determining if an air ambulance is necessary.

Reasons For Use

Paramedics will use what is called an injury severity score (ISS) to determine what type of care is necessary. If the care that a patient needs is more than a ground ambulance can provide, helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) will be dispatched. This is typically in cases of extreme trauma, spinal cord injury, uncontrollable bleeding, severe burns, and sometimes heart attack or stroke. 

Patients who are needing emergency transportation from the scene of an accident to a hospital are usually flown by HEMS, and patients who need to be flown long distances from one hospital to another – to receive better care – are typically flown by a small, fixed-wing aircraft. 


Time is an important factor in determining if a patient will be transported to a hospital by ground or by air. Sometimes a ground ambulance is just as good because it takes time to load up a helicopter and land properly. However, in cases where the patient needs immediate care and every minute counts, traveling by air is the best option. 


HEMS can carry supplies such as cardiac monitoring equipment, intubation equipment, ventilators, oxygen, IV pumps and solutions, suction units, ultrasound machines, defibrillators, blood transfusion equipment, a comprehensive supply of medication, and so much more. Though ground ambulances have a lot of equipment as well, they don't have as many options as air ambulances. Given how much medical equipment has advanced, any supplies a patient could conceivably need can be added to the helicopter or airplane prior to takeoff. 


Sometimes a traditional EMT doesn't have the specific training a patient needs. Paramedics for air ambulances undergo further training beyond that of ground ambulance paramedics. Not only do the personnel need to be trained in life-saving techniques, but they also need to be able to work under extreme pressure in a confined space. Additional training is needed to teach flight safety, landing zone procedures, and how treating a patient during a flight differs from treating a patient on the ground. One of the major differences is that altitude influences pressure, and that will require different systems for the treatment of a patient.

In a study done by the BMJ, it was concluded that "trauma patients who were transferred by helicopter were 57.0% less likely to die than those transferred by [ground ambulance]." Air ambulances are something that no one ever wants to need but that most will be very grateful is there for them if they are in an emergency.

To learn more, contact an air ambulance company.


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