Airlifts from accidents improve trauma outcome

By Alison McCook

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – People who suffer a traumatic
brain injury tend to fare better if they’re taken to the
hospital by helicopter rather than by ground transportation,
according to a new study.

Study author Dr. Daniel P. Davis explained that people
don’t necessarily get to the hospital quicker by air, but
helicopters are more likely to carry staffers with advanced
training in critical care, who can do more to stabilize people
before they reach the hospital.

Helicopters cost, on average, 5 to 10 times more than
ground transportation, but if that extra money makes a
difference between life and death, it makes sense to pay it,
noted Davis, who is based at the University of California, San
Diego and Mercy Air Medical Services in San Diego.

“If I’m the brain-injured patient, then it’s definitely
worth it,” Davis told Reuters Health.

He and his colleagues reviewed the outcomes for 10,314
people who experienced moderate to severe brain injuries
between 1987 and 2003 in San Diego County, 3,017 of whom
arrived at the hospital by helicopter.

One-quarter of the people died from their injuries, the
investigators report in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, but
they found that people were more likely to survive their
injuries if they were transported via helicopter.

Helicopters seemed to be most helpful to people with more
severe injuries.

Helicopters typically carry certified flight nurses, and/or
emergency room resident physicians, Davis explained, which
means that they can perform advanced procedures such as
intubation and catheterization before brain-injured patients
reach the hospital.

In an interview, Davis noted that helicopters can get
patients to the hospital quicker from rural areas, but often
offer no speed advantage in other regions. However, if being in
a helicopter means patients get quicker access to advanced
procedures, then air travel does offer another type of speed
advantage, he noted.

Indeed, people transported by air who received intubation
before reaching the emergency department were more likely to
survive their injuries than ground-transported patients who had
to wait for the procedure until they reached the emergency

SOURCE: Annals of Emergency Medicine, June 21, 2005.

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