Air ambulances have always played a vital role in medical care. They are a critical link between patients and the medical care they need. Here's a look at where air medical transportation began and where it's headed in the future.
The history of air ambulances in the U.S.
- In 1926, the United States Army Air Corps was the first to use air medical transportation for its patients.
- During WWII, transporting patients by airplane from one military hospital to another was done on a regular basis.
- During the Korean conflict in the 1950s, helicopter medical evacuation was introduced because it was quicker and safer than ground vehicles for extracting patients from hard-to-reach battlefields.
It wasn't until 1972 when the first civilian-based air medical transport service was established. Today, there are approximately a half million rotor-wing (helicopter) and fixed-wing (airplane) transports each year in the U.S.
Where critical care air ambulance servicestands today
The rise of civilian air medical transport in the U.S. is the result of many factors, including more limited medical services in rural areas (compared to urban areas) – where fixed-wing and rotor-wing air ambulances act as a bridge between patients and distant medical services. It's also the result of a rise in specialization among medical providers – which leads to cases where the one hospital providing best-in-class care for a particular type of illness or injury might be thousands of miles away.
Ground ambulances and rotor-wing air ambulances are usually used for shorter distance transportation and fixed-wing aircraft are used for longer distances (read about the difference between fixed-wing and rotor-wing here). At MedFlight911, we typically transport patients via fixed-wing air ambulances, fully equipped with medically-licensed crews and emergency medical equipment.
Our goal is always to get our patients access to the medical care they need. Sometimes that means getting to a medical facility that is closer to home, or closer to loved ones. Sometimes it means getting to that best-in-class facility with the specialized care the patient needs. Sometimes it means getting back to the United States for medical care.
The aging U.S. population and future impact on critical care air ambulance services
The number of Americans 65 or older is projected to increase from 35 million in 2000 to 71 million in 2030 (according to the CDC in the 2007 report The State of Aging and Health in America). We've all heard that the aging of the Baby Boomer generation will dramatically increase the demand for medical services. That goes for air medical transport services, too.
But as healthcare costs rise and Medicare payments fall, we're also likely to see further declines in medical care provided outside urban areas, and a further increase in specialization. Both mean further increases in medical flights.
MedFlight911, of course, will continue to be there to provide the compassionate, patient-centric air ambulance service that patients will increasingly need.