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Trauma patients do best in helicopters: AMA

April 19, 2012  By Carey Fredericks

April 19, 2012, Baltimore, Md. - People with life-threatening injuries are more likely to survive if they are taken to hospital by helicopter instead of an ambulance, a new study has found.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, included data on more than 200,000 adults who had suffered a major trauma injury that required transport to a U.S. level I or II trauma center. The authors found that although there was a higher rate of death amongst patients transported by helicopter (12.6 per cent) as compared to ground transport (11 per cent), patients taken by helicopter were more likely to have more severe injuries.

Once the authors compared those patients suffering similar injuries, they found that helicopter-transported patients at level I trauma centers actually had a 16 per cent improved rate of survival compared to those transported on the ground.

For patients transported to level II trauma centers, helicopter transport was associated with a 15 per cent improved odds of survival.

The authors, lead by Samuel M. Galvagno Jr. from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, said that it isn’t clear exactly what element of helicopter transport is responsible for the increased survival rate – whether it’s the medical teams or facilities available on the aircraft, or speed of transport to the hospital, but they called for more research to investigate the various components of helicopter EMS. The goal is to be able to more quickly and easily identify those injured adults that would be most likely to benefit from helicopter transport.


The study noted that trauma is the leading cause of death and disability among young people around the world, causing injury to more than 50 million people every year in the U.S. – and resulting in approximately 169,000 annual deaths in the country.


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