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The changing face of medical evacuation and its role in the pandemic

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Whether it’s about transferring COVID-19 patients to their home countries or ensuring the safe transfer of critically ill patients who need special treatment, medical flights have made healthcare more accessible during the pandemic.

Most of us are not aware that Medical evacuation and air ambulances are playing a major role in healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare workers, including nurses, emergency responders, and doctors, are at the forefront of leading the battle against the novel coronavirus. 

State-of-the-art medical flights are silently working in the background to support the existing healthcare infrastructure. Whether it’s about transferring COVID-19 patients to their home countries or ensuring the safe transfer of critically ill patients who need special treatment, medical flights have made healthcare more accessible during the pandemic.

Prioritizing patient safety and wellbeing
Although emergency rescue missions to extreme places like Antarctica are infrequent, air ambulances are often used to transfer accident victims from remote locations. They help such patients reach the nearest treatment at the right time, and are particularly crucial in case of life-threatening injuries.

What sets modern air ambulances apart is that they feature a wide array of standard medical equipment, including IV pumps, stretchers, mechanical fans, external pacemakers, etc. Some medical flight providers even equip their aircraft with heart monitors, ECMO, ultrasound equipment, and portable incubators.

Similarly, the crew on a medical flight includes nurses, paramedics, and other healthcare personnel. They receive years of training to deal with medical emergencies and crises. Also, they often have a background of working in intensive care units (ICU).

The idea is to create an on-board ICU to provide patients with emergency medical care during the journey.

Simplifying medical tourism
People who have been diagnosed with rare, severe, or terminal illnesses often have to seek treatment in foreign countries. For instance, patients with brain cancer or neuroendocrine tumors might prefer to get treated in a country with advanced medical infrastructure.

However, such patients aren’t fit enough to travel on commercial flights. To begin with, such flights can expose them to a wide array of germs. It’s particularly harmful in the case of immunocompromised patients who want to travel for treatment in the middle of the pandemic.

Also, commercial flights aren’t equipped with medical personnel or equipment to deal with in-flight emergencies. It jeopardizes the safety and wellbeing of critically ill patients.

That’s where medical flights step into the picture. Air ambulances, in the form of private jets and helicopters, ensure the privacy and safety of passengers. They eliminate the risk of exposure to other disease-causing agents. Also, medical flights provide faster, direct, and more convenient routes to ensure the patient’s comfort. They can provide urgent transport to patients anywhere in the world. 

Apart from surgery and specialized treatment, medical flights are just as important for executing organ transplants.

Medical evacuation for COVID-19 patients
Critical COVID-19 patients with extensive lung damage or pneumothorax often need ECMO support to survive. The limited availability of ECMO treatment facilities in some regions necessitates the need for medical evacuation. Patients from remote areas are often airlifted to the nearest available ECMO treatment center.

Transferring such patients is only possible with an air ambulance. Many medical flight providers have installed COVID-19 insulation cells in their aircraft to ensure the safety of onboard medical personnel.

Some reputed providers of private flights and air ambulances have equipped their medical flights with single-patient EpiShuttle units. Manufactured by EpiGuard, these units come with in-built airflow systems. They can even be connected to life support systems. It makes them ideal for transferring severely ill COVID patients. 

Also, with the easing of travel restrictions in some parts of the world, people have begun venturing overseas. However, the emergence of new novel coronavirus variants puts these travelers at risk of getting infected (even if they’re fully vaccinated). Such patients have to be repatriated to their home country for further treatment.

For instance, the Saudi embassy in Jakarta had to arrange the evacuation of a few Saudi citizens who were traveling in Indonesia and had contracted COVID-19 during their trip. The patients had to be transferred back to Saudi Arabia after their condition deteriorated.

Similarly, many countries have had to deploy flights to evacuate their citizens from other countries during the pandemic.

The future of medical evacuation
Medevac flights will continue to play a prominent role in supporting the fight against the novel coronavirus. Despite the higher costs, critically ill patients will prefer to travel by air ambulance to seek medical treatment overseas.

Medical flight providers are exploring the possibility of using small and medium jets to make their services more affordable. Also, expect to see medical flights getting equipped with more sophisticated tools and experienced staff to ensure patient safety.


Photo by Shaun Wadham on Unsplash

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