Air Ambulances Provide Critical Link for Isolated Communities
Air ambulances are a vital part of the health care system across the U.S. But in some places, they basically are the health care system. A recent article in The New York Times, "Health Care Is Spread Thin on the Alaskan Frontier," profiled the challenges that come with providing both routine and urgent medical services in some of the most remote parts of the 49th state. In isolated communities that are inaccessible by road and that have no resident doctors or nurses, air ambulances are the only way for patients with serious medical needs to get treatment.
Doctors and other medical personnel working in these small towns must make regular, potentially life-or-death decisions about when to call an advanced air ambulance. Cost can be a factor in these decisions (the Indian Health Service is the major provider of healthcare in the region), as is weather. "There are judgment calls that you never have to make in the lower 48," said one doctor interviewed for the story.
At MedFlight911, we have a lot of experience with the challenges that come with flying in adverse conditions (one long-distance air ambulance trip we made to the Ukraine involved such bitterly cold temperatures that a specialized setup was needed to transport the patient from the hospital to the plane). But air ambulance crews in rural Alaska face these difficult conditions as a matter of course. In fact, because the flights can be incredibly risky, there's a rule that if any crew member objects to takeoff, the plane won't go.
As a result of the unique environment, Alaskans have developed their own strategies for delivering much-needed heath care. Air ambulances are just one critical piece of a much larger puzzle. Telemedicine also plays a role – X-rays may be transmitted to and read by radiologists thousands of miles away, and diagnosis may be made by videoconference or phone. Also important are the state's community health aides. These people aren't doctors or nurses, but they're trained to provide essential services, like vaccinations and pregnancy testing. But the challenges they face are immense.
For many Americans, accessing much-needed health services is relatively easy – there are hospitals and clinics in the neighborhood or just a short drive away. But for people in Alaska, air ambulances are a vital link to comprehensive care that otherwise would be completely inaccessible to them. We salute the dedicated flight crews and medical crews who are committed to providing services to these communities.
Interested in learning 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.