Tag Archives: helicopter

(Mis)Use of Helicopter Transport For Pediatric Trauma

Helicopter transport is an integral and important part of modern day trauma care. Since the inception helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) for civilian use in the 1970’s, its use has been steadily increasing. And it’s expensive, at least five times more costly than ground transport. Plus, there are risks to both crew and patient, in that there have been 200 deaths of both patients and flight crews. Indeed, flight crews have one of the riskiest jobs, with 5 times more on-the-job deaths than police officers.

So it becomes very important to make sure that this mode of transport is justified. As I wrote previously, the adult HEMS literature is extensive, but not terribly convincing. There is far less data available regarding pediatric patients. And the data that does exist suggests that there may be significant overtriage and overuse.

A study using the National Trauma Data Bank (NTDB) was performed by researchers at Duke University. They reviewed the data for a 5 year period (2007-2011), which is fairly old in my opinion. And they included “children” up through age 18, which are also a bit old, in my opinion. Since there are no real quantitative criteria for overtriage in place, the authors picked three: low injury severity (ISS<10), normal physiology (RTS=12), and low predicted mortality using TRISS (<5%). A total of 127,489 patient records were analyzed.

Here are the factoids:

  • 14% arrived via helicopter EMS,  56% by ground EMS, and 29% by private vehicle or walk-in
  • HEMS patients were more likely to have head, thoracic, or abdominal injuries, and overall severe injuries (good!)
  • Adjusted mortality for patients transported by air was significantly less than for ground (really good)
  • 38% of HEMS patients had ISS < 9, and 66% had completely normal physiology (bad)
  • Overall, 32% to 82% of children did not meet criteria for appropriate transport

Bottom line: There are a number of flaws in this study that could be improved upon. However, it does provide some interesting data. Helicopter transport does save lives in the younger population, and was estimated at 2 per 100 flights. This is very promising. However, offsetting this was the fact that nearly half of transports failed one or more arbitrary appropriateness criteria. The recommendations I published yesterday need to be adopted, and both state trauma systems and local EMS agencies need to develop and enforce guidelines to optimally use this valuable and expensive resource.

Reference: Current use and outcomes of helicopter transport in pediatric trauma: a review of 18,291 transports. J Ped Surg in press 27 Oct 2016.

Helicopter EMS: The Recommendations

So after two days of pros and cons about helicopter EMS (HEMS), we lead up to this. The American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, Emergency Medical System subcommittee, has released a set of guidelines on appropriate use of HEMS. It’s been endorsed by the National Association of EMS Physicians and looks like a lot of thought has gone into it.

Here are the factoids about the HEMS guidelines:

  • Must be integrated with your trauma system
  • Must utilize standardized field triage guidelines that should be applied consistently throughout your trauma system
  • Is blind to the insurance status of the patient
  • Uses a regional dispatch system. Self-launch should never happen.
  • Referring physician to receiving physician conversations must occur when considering transportation mode (air vs ground) for interfacility transfers
  • There must be good online medical direction from a physician
  • Offline medical direction must be based on protocols and policies developed by the trauma system
  • There must be regular PI review of all HEMS transports to ensure compliance
  • HEMS crews must have regular training opportunities
  • A culture of safety must be maintained

Bottom line: We absolutely must take a critical look at our patient transport practices and procedures. To ensure even-handed application of best practices, our state trauma systems are going to have to step up and address this issue so the right patient will get to the right hospital at the right time, safely and cost effectively.

Reference: Appropriate use of Helicopter Emergency Medical Services for transport of trauma patients: Guidelines from the Emergency Medical System Subcommittee, Committee on Trauma, American College of Surgeons. J Trauma 75(4):734-741, 2013.

Helicopter EMS: The Risks

Yesterday, I wrote about the (unclear) benefits of helicopter EMS transports. Today, I’ll cover the risks. The number of medical helicopters in the US has grown dramatically since 2002.

image

As can be expected, the number of mishaps should go up as well.

image

Although it looks like the fatal and injury accidents peaked and then declined, it does not look as good when compared to the rest of the aviation industry. Consequently, being on a helicopter EMS (HEMS) crew has become one of the more dangerous professions.

image

And unfortunately, the numbers have not improved much during the past five years. So what to do? Make it a big PI project. Approach it systematically, analyze the issues, and create some guidelines and protocols for all to follow.

Tomorrow, I’ll review  guidelines for HEMS released by the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma.

Reference: Medical helicopter accidents in the United States: a 10 year review. J Trauma 56:1325-1329, 2004.

Helicopter EMS (HEMS): The Benefits?

I’m going to kick off 4 days of information on helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS).

The use of medical helicopters has grown at an astonishing rate in the 10+ years since Medicare got involved with payment for this service. All high level trauma centers have helicopter landing facilities, and many either own or are a part owner in at least one helicopter EMS service (HEMS).

Here’s a state by state breakdown of the number of medical helicopters:

image

It’s gotten to the point where the indication for summoning a HEMS service seems to be the presence of a patient to ride on it! 

A lot of papers have been published in the past 20 years trying to justify the benefits of using these services. As is the usually case when a lot of papers are published on one subject, most of them are not very good. Many studies have been performed to try to justify their use, and most were not successful. The following items have been scrutinized:

  • Interfacility transfers
  • Trauma
  • Pediatric transfers
  • Pediatric trauma
  • Burns
  • OB
  • Neonatal
  • Rural trauma

Most of these papers found little, if any, benefit. The ones that did tended to be published by institutions that owned these services, raising the significant question of bias. The one thing that was always significantly different was the cost. HEMS costs at least 5-10 times more than ground EMS transport.

So the benefits are not very clear. What about the risks? I’ll talk about those in my next post.

Click here to view the interactive state map of medical helicopters. See where your state is with respect to number of ships and services, and how busy they are.

Validation Of The Air Medical Prehospital Triage Score (AMPT)

Unneeded use of helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) air transport is a problem around the world. This scarce and valuable resource tends to be over-utilized, resulting in unnecessary costs to patients and the health care system in general. Unfortunately, good and objective criteria for HEMS transport have been hard to come by.

A group at the University of Pittsburgh published a study earlier this year, developing an objective scoring system based on a huge dataset from the National Trauma Databank. They used a portion of the data to develop a model, and the remainder to test it. They developed the AMPT, which identified patients that showed a survival benefit with helicopter transport:

AAST2016-Oral23

For this AAST abstract,  they sought to validate the scoring system using an entirely different database, the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation registry. They used 14 years of data, and reviewed nearly a quarter million records. Once again, the authors were looking at in-hospital survival.

Here are the factoids:

  • 20% of patients were transported by air
  • But only 11% were predicted to benefit by using AMPT
  • For patients with an AMPT score < 2, transport by air did not increase survival
  • For patients who had an AMPT score >and were actually transported by air, survival was improved by 31% (!)

Bottom line: It looks like the AMPT score is a good predictor of improved survival for patients transported by air. But wait, it’s not that cut and dried. These statistics are based on populations; they cannot predict exactly which individual patient will benefit. What about those patients who actually died? Perhaps if they had gotten to the hospital a little faster, they would have done better? This is certainly a nice new tool to use in the decision-making process, but it can’t be the only one. 

References:

  • The air medical prehospital triage score: external validation supports ability to identify injured patients that would benefit from helicopter transport. AAST 2016, Paper #23.
  • Development and validation of the air medical prehospital triage score for helicopter transport of trauma patients. Ann Surg 264(2):378-385, 2016.