Are Bariatric Patients Getting the Air Ambulance Service They Need?
Recently, I saw a news report about a growing problem in the air ambulance industry: Patients who are too big to fly. We've touched on this problem in the past, when we wrote about a woman traveling from Hungary to the U.S. who was denied boarding on a commercial flight because of her weight and other heart problems. But overweight patients can also present challenges for operators of both helicopter and fixed-wing air ambulances.
The article discussed several situations where heavy patients, usually weighing 280 to 300 pounds or more, couldn't be transported via air ambulance. According to some estimates, roughly 1% of potential air ambulance patients are denied transport because of their weight – or 5,000 every year.
Often, it appears there is no clear dividing line that separates a patient who is too big to fly from one who is not. However, multiple factors come into play in making this decision. The size of the aircraft, amount of fuel on board, and the weather can affect the decision about whether it's safe to take off.
There is a point at which the weight, height and air craft simply cannot accommodate the patient. In a helicopter, the weight of the pilot, equipment, nurse medic and a patient's weight up to 275 pounds can be accommodated, however the patient's girth may make a helicopter trip unrealistic. In addition, the positioning of an obese patient, lying flat with their weight pushing against organs can make any current medical condition worse.
In an air ambulance setting, each aircraft has set guidelines regarding patient's weight and size. Again, patient girth becomes a factor if the patient is unable to fit safely through the door or if lying down will have a negative impact on their health, well-being and comfort. If a patient's girth precludes them from traveling in a helicopter or air ambulance, a bariatric patient may travel via ground medical motorcoach in a bariatric configured unit where the back end of the motor coach opens.
At MedFlight911, we treat obese patients the same way we would any other patient: We do everything we need to get them safely to where they need to be. Because we're not dealing with emergency situations, we have more flexibility when arranging a transport.. Or, if time is less of a concern, we might suggest transport via a bariatric configured medical motor coach. Each situation is different, but we are usually able to find a solution that gets the patient to their ultimate destination.
Many people in the U.S. are obese – more than one third, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – and that percentage is likely to increase in the future. These people need medical care just like everyone else, and we must find ways to accommodate their needs. As air ambulance medical professionals, it's our job to provide care to all patients, and we are focused on finding ways to efficiently and effectively care for everyone we serve, no matter their size.
Want to learn more about MedFlight911's air ambulance services? Give us a call at 888-359-1911 or get a no-obligation air medical transport quote here.