Exploring the Benefits of Patient Transport Services by Air

In modern life, the word “lifeline” carries multiple meanings. It can refer to a literal rope, as in the line thrown by an able seaman to save a shipmate from drowning.

Medical transport by airplanes is often an essential lifeline for patients in critical situations. Manned by adept healthcare professionals, these specialized aircraft transcend geographical hurdles and guarantee that patients obtain specialized care in distant locations.


Air ambulances provide a cost-effective way of transporting patients from distant locations to a hospital, especially for trauma victims. However, this service can be expensive due to the aircraft’s high costs and required medical support equipment.

A substantial body of evidence supports using rotor-wing/helicopter air medical services for interfacility transfer of trauma patients. These patients often benefit from specialized prehospital care at the transferring facility or advanced treatment in transit that is unavailable at their home hospital, resulting in improved survival compared to ground transportation alone.

However, the high cost of medical helicopters can make them unfeasible for many patients. Insurance covers many air ambulance flights, but those without private health insurance can face unexpected bills that have led to medical bankruptcy.

The deregulation of the airline industry in 1978 left states powerless to regulate prices, and consumers are largely at the mercy of a complex system they have little control over.

Time-Sensitive Transfers

Professional commercial airline stretcher service can offer patients faster access to treatment in many situations. Construction projects or spontaneous events may disrupt ground transportation routes and create a critical need for rapid, safe transport to a nearby hospital.

Air ambulance flights are also used to reduce the time needed for patients to reach a cardiac catheterization lab or other specialized facilities for acute injuries like heart attacks and strokes. Air transport also cuts the distance for transferring patients from rural to urban areas, which can be a lifeline for those with long commutes or limited mobility.

To ensure that air medical resources are utilized efficiently, on-duty EMS clinicians at the scene of an accident and hospital-based physicians should be authorized to request air transport resources for indicated patient conditions.

Clinicians must document why the air ambulance is necessary and explain how it will achieve the primary goals. Helicopter shopping, where multiple helicopters are called to a mission based on availability, should be discouraged because it increases safety risks for the aircraft and crew members.

Accessibility to Remote Locations

Air medical services offer the ability to transport patients into or out of remote locations often inaccessible by ground transportation, enabling them to receive care from facilities they wouldn’t otherwise be able to access.

Whether for time-sensitive transfers to specialized healthcare facilities, long-distance transfers between hospitals, or repatriation from foreign countries, air ambulances are staffed by physicians, nurses, and corpsmen/technicians and equipped with medical equipment to provide treatment during transport.

Other uses include the prompt extraction of ill or injured hikers, hunters, mountain sports enthusiasts, or other outdoor recreationists in remote or geographically challenging environments and interfacility transport to deliver specialty care such as thrombolytic therapy or cardiac catheterization.

In these cases, using an aeromedical flight may improve patient outcomes by reducing the time to intervention (though the evidence on this is mixed).

Emergency Evacuation from Natural Disasters

Air ambulances offer an important option in emergencies where time is crucial. These flights typically can pick patients up from the scene of an accident or medical incident within hours of being called.

Medications and equipment can be flown with the patient, and aircraft are equipped to provide expert medical care at 30,000 feet. Air traffic control grants these aircraft priority flight status – much like a ground ambulance that uses lights and sirens.

Non-emergency patient transport by air is also available for people who need to travel long distances, such as those who need oxygen and cannot fly on commercial flights or require a medical escort for comfort. This option can be especially helpful for those traveling to consult with medical experts abroad.

While this is a great option in an emergency, advocates have been critical that, too often, patients are flown when driving would be just as effective and much less expensive. This is a problem that needs to be addressed.



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