Role of Air Medical Transportation in Medical and Wellness Tourism


Heard the saying? “It isn’t exactly brain surgery.” Well, this time it is. And it is your brain. You fought this battle long enough and now you decided to go ahead and let someone remove the area where the seizures originate. A world-renowned neurosurgeon at a top-rated facility located on another continent is chosen… You have your dates figured out; got your passport and your visa; got the hotel reservations and travel insurance purchased. Now, how are you going to get there when the farthest you’ve traveled was from home to your doctor’s office? Your seizures are quite frequent and unpredictable. What if it happens while flying? The best airline itinerary you found takes more than 16 hours of travel time with a four hour layover! More stress. More fatigue. …Further increasing the risk for seizures. …What are you going to do? …How are you going to get there?

Las Vegas is quickly becoming a global medical tourism destination featuring specialty spinal and back surgery, brain, cancer and infertility centers, obstetric and neo-natal care units, and weight control and plastic and reconstructive surgical facilities.

However, seeking medical care away from home, even in a tourist Mecca like Las Vegas, can be a frightening and daunting process. One element of medical tourism often overlooked is transportation to and from a medical destination.

Private air ambulance is one method. Private air ambulance offers the benefit of convenience, safety, confidentiality and continuous care that cannot be obtained from commercial travel. It also allows patients to return home almost immediately after a procedure, enabling recovery and recuperation among family and friends, rather than in a strange and unfamiliar city.

First and foremost, patients should use air ambulance services that are medically licensed and accredited. Ask to see a license. Ask for accreditation and by whom. Then check. Call the state medical licensing board to find out if the air ambulance is licensed.

CAMTS (Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems) is the primary means of air ambulance accreditation in the United States. CAMTS is an independent, non-profit agency that audits and accredits medical transport services to a set of industry-established criteria. There are approximately 154 air ambulance services worldwide that meet the rigorous standards of CAMTS accreditation. To find

Private air ambulance offers the benefit of convenience, safety, confidentiality and continuous care that cannot be obtained through commercial travel.

out if the air ambulance service under consideration is one of them, visit: www.camts.org/Accredited-Services.html.

Health and safety is worth the extra half-hour it takes to confirm that the people in whom trust is placed are both licensed and accredited.

Licensed and accredited air ambulance in-flight medical teams, usually consisting of a nurse and paramedic, are specially trained and experienced in medical care during flight. They have the education, training and experience to safely care for patients, no matter the condition, and to react to unforeseen circumstances or medical issues. In flight, these professionals are also able to communicate with medical experts on the ground to manage patient care more safely and efficiently.

The aircraft is also important. Ask the company if they use a two-engine pressurized aircraft. Most do. Some don’t. Licensed and accredited companies use aircrafts that are specially modified into flying intensive-care units.

This means the aircraft is equipped with the same medical equipment and supplies found in any hospital intensive-care unit including ventilators, monitors, cardiac equipment, medications and other supplies to ensure transportation is safe and comfortable.

Some unlicensed companies just put a hospital bed aboard a charter airplane and call themselves an air ambulance… until the next charter flight comes around.

Licensed and certified air ambulances also offer the greatest safety and convenience for the medical traveler. For example, patients travelling to Las Vegas for back surgery will need to recuperate for an extended period of time before commercial travel home.

By flying home in an air ambulance, patients can return when they want, no matter where in the world they live. For some destinations, if patients wish, they can have surgery in the morning and sleep in their bed the same night. And they will travel secure in the knowledge that they are receiving the same level of care as they would receive in any hospital.

Patients with elective or non-elective cosmetic surgeries can also benefit. Travel by air ambulance allows the luxury of going home privately without displaying post-procedure conditions for all to see.

In addition, licensed and certified in-flight medical teams are skilled at managing pain and discomfort; along with treating any unforeseen changes in condition that may arise during return trips home.

Leukemia, lymphoma, congenital immunodeficiency or treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, may compromise immune systems and make commercial air travel impractical. Travel by air ambulance protects these patients by avoiding unnecessary exposure to others while obtaining the required medical care.

The opposite is also true. Some medical travelers may be treated for communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis or meningitis. To minimize public exposure, many of these patients are prohibited from flying commercially. Air ambulance medical crews are trained in transporting these patients while preventing the transmission of diseases to others.

Gastric surgery and specialized weight-loss centers assist patients suffering from health complications due to obesity. These patients are often unable to fly commercially due to size and weight restrictions. Air ambulances are able to transport significantly overweight patients and reduce related complications to air travel.

Transplant tourism is also on the rise. In some areas, the demand for organs far outstrips the supply. Some of these patients travel to other areas of the United States or internationally. Many of these patients are too sick to travel commercially.

In addition, because there is a very small window of time, usually 3-5 hours from the time the organ is available to the moment of transplant, commercial air travel is not feasible. On the other hand, private air ambulances operate 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week.

Once a patient is notified an organ is available, they can be airborne in less than an hour and flown almost anywhere in the contiguous United States, Canada, and Mexico within that critical five-hour time frame.

Once the procedure is complete and the patient is released from the transplant facility, an air ambulance can provide transport home from anywhere in the world for recuperation and follow-up care.

Private air medical transportation prices vary, from as little as $7,500.00 for regional transports to more than $100,000 for certain global medical service. Furthermore, most insurance companies only cover air medical transportation deemed medically necessary and only to the nearest higher level of care facility. In other words, they generally do not provide coverage for elective medical tourism travel.

However, health insurance providers, aware of growing medical costs, are beginning to implement “travel benefits” or “global policies” that may provide coverage for international travel for lower-cost treatment.

For those who become ill or injured while traveling for business or pleasure, travel insurance may cover the cost of transportation home for treatment or recuperation. Check with insurance agents for options.

There are also less costly air medical transportation options for some patients depending on medical conditions. Commercial airline stretcher transports are available for bed-ridden, yet stable, patients flying internationally. A medical bed is set up on a commercial aircraft.

Care is overseen by a licensed flight nurse and paramedic who travel with the patient to their final destination. The air ambulance company also provides the medical equipment and medications required for a trip. While this option is less expensive, it is less private and there are limitations to the medical equipment allowed onboard.

Patients able to sit and get on and off commercial aircraft with minimal assistance can be accompanied by medical escorts who monitor health conditions during commercial flights and assist with oxygen or medications, if necessary. This is the least expensive option, but also the most limited. Other than oxygen, there is no medical equipment provided, and the medications available are limited as well.

There are many options available for medical tourists — and others — needing to fly between their home and medical destination. Knowing options and what to look for in choosing an air ambulance service allows both patient and physician to make educated decisions about which company and transport option is best.

About the Author

Life Guard International, also known as Flying ICU, is a fixedwing air medical transport provider based in Las Vegas. Life Guard is licensed in Nevada, Arizona and Utah; and is CAMTSaccredited. Life Guard transports patients in all conditions from the very stable to the most critical, throughout Nevada, the United States, and the world, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a week. Along with in-flight care and transportation, Life Guard’s bedside-to-bedside service ranges from obtaining authorization from insurance providers; patient ground transportation at origin and destination; and making necessary accommodations for travelling family members. For further information, call (888) 359-6428 or visit www.flyingicu.com.

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