Flying to the Rescue

Helicopter transportation increase survival rate for critically injured patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) A study from the University of Rochester Medical Center reveals that the survival rate of critically injured individuals is greater for those transported to trauma centers by helicopter rather than by ground ambulance.

While critics of helicopter transportation highlight concerns of safety and cost, this new study - which is published in The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical care - illustrates the effectiveness of helicopter transportation, even when many helicopter-transport patients are in worse condition than those transported by ground.

While other studies using smaller sample sets have shown less than positive results for air transportation, this study is the first to analyze the effectiveness of helicopter transportation on a national scale. Using a data set from the National Trauma Databank, the University of Rochester researchers refuted the findings of previous studies. Of 258,387 trauma patients, 41,987 (16 percent) were transported to a hospital by helicopter while the other 216,400 (84 percent) were transported by ground.

Led by Mark Gestring, M.D., director of the Kesller Trauma Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center, the team of researchers found that those transported by helicopter were more likely to be male, younger, and victims of motor vehicle crashes or falls. According to the data, air-transport patients are generally in worse condition than their ground-transport counterparts. With 20 percent of helicopter-transport patients in need of breathing assistance for an average of a week, and another 20 percent in need of operation, it is somewhat surprising that their survival rates are more successful.

According to Gestring, part of air transport's effectiveness is that it provides access to trauma centers for patients who otherwise would not be access such a resource. He adds that the speed at which injured patients are delivered to trauma centers is key to their survival. Thus, helicopters provide a quick and effective method for transporting trauma victims.

The use of aircraft for medical transport origininated from military use.

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Review Date: 
January 5, 2011
Last Updated:
January 5, 2011