The Role of Emergency Medical Helicopters in Victim Survivability Rates following Automobile Crashes

With the number of serious traffic accidents in tens of thousands every year across this nation, it’s surprising that the death rate from car, truck and motorcycle accidents is not higher than it already is. While alcohol and drug use contributes to a vast number of injury- and fatality-related roadway collisions, the percentage of distracted driving incidents has been rising on its own as one of several major factors in modern-day automobile and commercial trucking wrecks.

As Maryland personal injury lawyers, we understand how even the most innocuous distraction — such as a crying child, spilled coffee or in-car conversation — can draw a driver’s attention away from the task at hand. More than a few motorists and their passengers have been killed thanks to a moments loss of focus on the highway.

While the number and frequency of auto and trucking accidents on our nation’s roads can at times be amazing, it is the actions of police, fire and other emergency personnel that can make the difference between a serious car or truck crash and a fatal one. Part of the response equation can involve the often cited medevac helicopter flights that ferry critically injured victims of traffic accidents from accident scenes all around the country to medical facilities for rapid, and hopefully life-saving treatment.

Closed-head trauma, spinal cord damage and injuries to internal organs can result in life-threatening situations for many victims of Maryland auto collisions. The fact that a helicopter can significantly cut transportation time from a crash site to a hospital is one reason why so many people can end up surviving what may have been a fatal wreck.

A news article we ran across recently pointed out that although helicopter transport is understandably more expensive than delivery by ambulance, in many cases that extra expense can be justified by the number of lives saved in the process. The article goes on to state that experts are still unclear as to whether the benefits of medevac service come from the speed of a rescue chopper or if it is the relatively high competency of the medevac chopped crews that really make the difference in care prior to arriving at the emergency room.

In an analysis published a couple months back by the American Medical Association (AMA), victims of car, truck and other life-threatening accidents who were ferried to hospitals by medevac helicopters had a 16-percent better chance of survival than those who were taken to the local emergency room via ambulance or other ground-based vehicle.

We, as personal injury lawyers practicing in Maryland and the Washington, D.C., area, already know what the AMA journal names as the leading cause of death for people under 44 years of age in the U.S.: namely, trauma. According to the AMA, hospitals are believed to spend from $300K to $4.5M on medevac service for victims of car accidents, gunshot wounds and other traumatic medical events. And, many hospitals around the country have adopted the use of helicopters more and more since their first use back in the ‘70s.

Even though numerous hospitals have chosen to include medevac choppers as part of their patient transportation systems, the effectiveness of this mode of transport remains unclear. The AMA article cited data that showed a 22-percent jump in the odds of survival for patients transported via chopper, yet other looking at multiple studies, researchers found that only three of those indicated a statistically significant benefit of moving patients by chopper.

It’s an interesting read, which anyone curious about the benefits of medevac service to patient survival will find informative. You can learn more by clicking on the link below.

JAMA: Choppers save lives,, April 17, 2012

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