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New study endorses use of helicopters for medical transport

September 28, 2012  By Science Daily

Sept. 28, 2012, London, U.K. - The benefits and cost effectiveness of helicopter transport for severely injured patients is of continued debate. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal Critical Care shows that for severe blunt trauma, patients transported by helicopter had a lower risk of death, compared to those transported by road.

In a multi-centre study, based in university hospitals across France,
researchers compared initial patient status at the scene of the
accident, with time taken to get to hospital, type of treatment received
pre-admission, and to health at discharge, or after 30 days.

At first there seemed to be no difference in mortality between those
transported by helicopter and those by road, however once the data had
been adjusted for severity of injury the results became clear. Patients
transported by helicopter stood a better chance of survival than those
transported by road.

Dr Thibaut Desmettre, who led this study, explained, "Transporting
very ill patients is a balancing act. Overall it took longer for
patients transported by helicopter to reach hospital and they tended to
need more emergency care once admitted. On the other hand these patients
were more intensively treated at the scene and en route than those
transported by road-ambulance crews — which might go some way towards
explaining their improved chances of survival."

However the benefit seen could not all be attributed to the more
aggressive therapy they received before, or after, they arrived at
hospital. Dr Desmettre continued, "We were unable to measure the
distance the patients travelled, nor where their accident occurred —
some accidents occur in places where road access is too difficult — and
what impact this had on severity of injury or choice of sending a
helicopter crew." Helicopters are a costly and limited resource and
unfortunately the benefit to patients has to evaluated in this light.
However, for these patients, with the most severe injuries, transport by
helicopter saves lives.



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