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Air Ambulance

Patients who are too ill to travel on board a commercial airline often require the services of an air ambulance.

Air ambulances are usually only used in the most extreme situations. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Air ambulances are usually only used in the most extreme situations.

Air Ambulance

Patients who are too ill to travel on board a commercial airline often require the services of an air ambulance, or an aircraft dedicated to patient transportation. These aircraft are essentially airborne intensive care units, equipped with medical supplies and staffed by medical personnel trained to care for patients while in flight. For some, transportation in an air ambulance is the only way to access lifesaving medical treatments or to be closer to loved ones in a time of need.

Onboard Equipment and Personnel

Air ambulances are equipped with medical supplies necessary to sustain the lives of ill or injured individuals while in flight. While on board air ambulances, patients are accompanied by licensed and experienced medical professionals, including registered critical care flight nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists and emergency medicine physicians. Medical equipment on board air ambulances typically includes oxygen, cardiac monitors, defibrillators, intravenous fluids, ventilators and necessary medications.

Who Requires Air Ambulance Transportation?

There are a number of reasons a patient might require air ambulance transportation. In some cases, specialized treatment is only available in certain hospitals, which may be located across the country. Such treatments may include organ transplants, specialized surgeries, cancer treatments and rehabilitation techniques. For patients who are in critical condition and cannot tolerate ground transportation, or who are in situations in which survival is dependant upon rapid transportation, air ambulance service may be the only viable option.

In other situations, individuals may fall ill or become injured while on vacation. An air ambulance may then be necessary to transport the patient to a medical facility closer to home. Similarly, ill or frail patients who live far from family members may require the services of air ambulances to be moved closer to those family members for everyday care.

Air Ambulance Aircraft

A number of air ambulance services utilize Lear jets, which can travel up to 3,000 miles at over 500 miles per hour. However, these jets can hold only up to four passengers, which limits the number of family members who can accompany a patient. Another type of jet some companies use as air ambulances are Gulfstream jets, which can travel greater distances at higher speeds (up to 4,100 miles at 560 miles per hour) and can hold as many as 15 passengers.

Available Services

In addition to providing medical care while in flight, many air ambulance companies offer bedside-to-bedside service. This means that a medical crew accompanies the patient right from the original medical facility or location to the destination medical facility or location. A typical bedside-to-bedside transport service includes the following:

Arrival at the patients bedside to switch any hospital or facility equipment, such as ventilators or monitoring equipment, to transport equipment. Accompaniment of the patient to the aircraft in a ground ambulance Medical care while in flight. Accompaniment of the patient to the receiving facility in a ground ambulance. Transfer of any medical equipment to the facilitys equipment.

Cost of Air Ambulance Transport

The fees incurred by a trip in an air ambulance are quite extensive. While each air ambulance service has different rates, the charges are generally dependant on the condition of the patient. For example, a critically ill patient who is reliant on life support requires different medical supplies and personnel than one who is injured and being transported closer to home to undergo rehabilitation. While the services of just a single nurse or paramedic on board an air ambulance can cost roughly $800, an extensive medical team that includes a doctor, critical care nurse and a paramedic can run as high as $4,100.

Other costs associated with transportation via an air ambulance include those to cover preparation arrangements, necessary medical supplies and equipment, airport take-off fees, aircraft fuel fees and ground ambulance transport, if necessary. Not including aircraft fuel charges, which are dependant on how far a patient is transported, a trip in an air ambulance can set patients back about $4,510, based on origination and destination airports located 20 miles away from the sending and receiving medical facilities.

Insurance Coverage

Whether patients insurance will cover the cost of air ambulance transportation is dependant on the regulations of the individual insurance carrier and specific policies. Each insurance carrier has its own requirements as to who qualifies for air transport coverage. In many cases, patients must demonstrate urgent medical need, confirmed by a medical professional. According to U.S. Air Ambulance, a leading medical transportation company, one-third of the patients it transports qualify for some financial assistance from their insurance carriers.

For example, individuals who hold Original Medicare qualify for payment of air transportation based on how critical the situation is. Original Medicare will only cover air ambulance transportation if the extra time it would take to be transported on the ground would endanger life. While each situation is evaluated to ensure individuals meet a variety of additional criteria, those who qualify for coverage receive 80 percent of the Medicare-approved amount for the air transportation service, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, leaving 20 percent of the cost up to the policy holder.

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