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Understanding Air Ambulance Services: What You Need to Know

Understanding Air Ambulance Services: What You Need to Know - Coming Soon in UAE
23 February 2024
10 minutes to read

Ensuring timely and appropriate care is vital in a medical emergency. An air ambulance service can provide that.

Here’s a guide to help you understand what an air ambulance is, how air ambulance service works and when it can be crucial.

What Is an Air Ambulance and What Are Its Functions?

An air ambulance is also known as an aeromedical or medical evacuation aircraft. It is essentially an ambulance that travels by air instead of by land.

Like their ground counterparts — emergency medical services (EMS) vans or medical ambulance buses — air ambulances have two primary functions.

  • Provide immediate medical care to patients;
  • Ensure swift transportation of such patients to a hospital.

There are cases when air ambulances serve primarily as a medically focused transport. For instance, when a patient who requires medical monitoring and care must travel overseas, the air ambulance becomes a patient transport airplane. It simply helps the patient get from his origin to his target destination.

A hospital is not always the destination, moreover. It can be another type of medical facility (e.g., an imaging or radiology center, dialysis center, hospice home). It may even be just the airport, such as in the case of air ambulances booked to transport a frail but still mobile and not critically ill passenger.

When Is an Air Ambulance Most Beneficial?

An air ambulance is most beneficial in medical emergencies that make land transport impossible or impractical. The following are examples:

  • The medical facility is very far away;
  • Road blockages, hostile or inaccessible terrain;
  • Critical medical emergencies involving an extremely short time window for medical relief before the situation becomes fatal.

What’s Onboard an Air Ambulance?

An air ambulance, like EMS vans and medical ambulance buses, is staffed and equipped for medical emergencies and to provide medical care.

An air ambulance travels with a team of healthcare professionals. This team can be composed of paramedics, flight physicians, onboard nurses, and pharmacists.

Air ambulances also carry an array of medical gear. At the very least, they have life support systems, defibrillators, advanced monitoring devices, and ventilators. They also have various medications and IV supplies, ensuring comprehensive medical care mid-air.

Some air ambulances also carry diagnostic equipment. For instance, while a portable ultrasound machine is not standard equipment, it may be good to have, especially in the case of long-haul air ambulances tasked to carry patients suffering from pulmonary distress.


Types of Air Ambulances

There are two primary types of air ambulances.

Fixed-Wing Aircraft

An airplane is a type of fixed-wing aircraft.

As its name suggests, the wings of a fixed-wing aircraft are affixed to the aircraft body. They are shaped and designed in such a way that the aircraft’s forward movement allows the wings to generate lift and keep the plane afloat.

Rotary-Wing Aircraft

A helicopter is a rotary-wing aircraft, also known as a rotorcraft. A rotary-wing aircraft generates lift through wings (e.g., rotor blades) that rotate around a vertical axis.

Rotorcraft typically fly shorter distances than airplanes but can access remote or rugged terrains. Thus, a rotary-wing medical aircraft is suitable for mountaintop rescue scenarios.


When Is an Air Ambulance Needed?

An air ambulance is an excellent option for medical emergencies and transporting passengers requiring medical care. The following are situations where an air ambulance may be better than an EMS van.

1. When Every Second Matters

Emergencies don’t (can’t) wait. Especially when prompt medical intervention can significantly alter outcomes, air ambulances can offer rapid response, cutting down vital minutes that can literally mean the difference between life and death.

2. Difficult Terrain and Remote Location

Think of an injured hiker stranded on a mountain or someone who has had a stroke in a disaster-struck rural area. Ground vehicles are likely to face barriers in such instances. Air ambulances can bridge this accessibility gap, ensuring no place is too remote whenever medical help is required.


3. Advanced or Specialized Medical Care

When a patient needs advanced medical attention, an air ambulance is uniquely positioned to provide it. If the nearest medical facility doesn’t have the equipment and expertise to handle the patient’s medical emergency or case, an air ambulance can take the patient farther out to a facility that has the requisite equipment and medical specialists.

An air ambulance can also be equipped with the specialized or advanced equipment the patient needs and can travel with the medical specialist the patient’s condition merits. Advanced or specialized medical care can thus begin in transit.

4. Medical Evacuation

An air ambulance is necessary for medical evacuations involving long distances, particularly intercontinental travel. A patient may require medical evacuation to get treatment at an advanced facility overseas. The patient may also have a rare condition that requires treatment by a specialist in another country.

5. Medical Repatriation

Patients who get ill or injured overseas may need to be repatriated to their home country for medical care. There can be several possible reasons for this.

One of the most common is insurance; the patient may have medical insurance coverage only in his country of residence. Another is the lack of facilities and expertise in his host country. Home advantage is another reason; the patient’s doctor, who knows his medical history and whom the patient trusts completely, is in his home country.


6. Bed-to-Bed Medical Transfers

A medical air charter provider does not only provide medical aircraft equipped with life-saving equipment and staffed with medical professionals. It can also facilitate inter-country transport, handle government requirements and coordinate with ground emergency services (EMS vans) and medical facilities.

Therefore, an air charter provider with air ambulance service can ensure a patient gets airlifted on schedule and does not get held up by bureaucratic requirements at the airport upon departure and arrival. Continuous medical supervision is assured as the patient is properly handed over to a ground medical crew and promptly transferred to the target medical facility upon arrival.

When an Air Ambulance Is the Right Choice

Air ambulances can ensure a patient gets the best possible medical care in the quickest possible time. They provide a necessary service and may be the only option in specific medical emergencies and situations involving the transport of ill or injured passengers.


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