Death wish, aka medical helicopters

July 1, 2008

In Medical Helicopter Crashes Stir Concern the New York Times raises doubts about the safety of air ambulances, and suggests that for-profit companies, especially publicly traded ones, may be a key factor.

Sixteen people have died this year in seven crashes, which involved eight helicopters, according to federal data. Thirteen of the deaths have come since May.

About 750 medical helicopters are operating in this country, about twice the number flying a decade ago. Medical helicopters were once operated mostly by hospitals, but in recent years private companies, including some that are publicly traded, have come to dominate the industry.

I don’t know why the Times thinks hospitals would be better operators of helicopters than for-profit companies. As entities go, hospitals certainly don’t have a great safety record in their core operations. It seems to me just a bias on the part of the paper.

I first wrote about this topic in my first week as a blogger. (See Air ambulances: Costly, dangerous, slow?) which described the problems with such services. Air ambulances cost a fortune, crash a lot, and don’t necessarily get the patient to the hospital any faster. A shocking statistic (possibly even true) is that a crew member who worked 20 hours per week for 20 years would have a 40 percent chance of being killed in a crash.

The Times reporter would have done well to read the Wall Street Journal article I cited more than three years ago.

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