New York Times misses the mark with air ambulance story

The New York Times ran a front page story on the growth of the air ambulance industry yesterday. (As Medical Airlifts Proliferate, The Public Price Tag is Rising.) The Times angle was that the air ambulance business is growing and the cost to insurers and the federal government was rising.

But readers of this blog know that there’s much more to the story than that. There are other issues to be concerned about besides rising costs:

  • Air ambulances are dangerous. A crew member who worked 20 hours per week for 20 years would have a 40 percent chance of being killed
  • Patients often don’t get to the hospital any faster in an air ambulance than by ground
  • The constricted space and noise level in a helicopter limit the ability of paramedics to assist the patient
  • Oversupply is not the only reason for rising utilization. ER physicians, scared of liability, are overreacting and sending even minor cases to specialty centers by air

On the other hand, there can be some good reasons to use air ambulances in non-emergency situations:

  • When a rural community transports a patient a long distance by ground ambulance, they put their own community at risk by losing their ambulance for most of the day
  • Once a patient is stabilized, sending them by fixed wing aircraft over a long distance is more comfortable than a ride in a bumpy ambulance
May 4, 2005

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