What You Should Know about Air Medical Services for the EMT Exam

By Arthur Hsieh

Familiarize yourself with air medical services for the EMT exam. Many, if not most, EMS systems have access to an air medical service to transport critically ill or injured patients over distances that would take significantly longer to travel by ground ambulance. Most air medical transports are done by specially configured helicopters staffed by a wide range of medical personnel, including paramedics, nurses, and physicians.

The decision to use a medical helicopter is not an insignificant one. It’s costly to the patient and incurs a greater risk of injury and death due to an aircraft crash. For these reasons, helicopters are usually dispatched under specific criteria, usually when the chance of a critical illness or injury is high, and the time it will take to transport in a helicopter is far less than ground time.

The time interval is important to understand. It takes many minutes to ready a helicopter for takeoff. Once the air crew arrives overhead, it takes time to circle the scene to look for hazards, land the aircraft, and reduce the speed of the rotors in order to load the patient.

The helicopter crew will need to reassess the patient and possibly perform additional treatments before moving the patient to the aircraft. It takes a few more minutes to load the patient into the helicopter, and then more time again to power up the unit and take off. Once it arrives at the hospital landing pad, it has to repeat the same procedure in order to land safely.

This time interval can be reduced by dispatching the helicopter at the same time as ground crews to an emergency scene where the chance of needing a helicopter is higher. In very rural areas, this may allow the air unit to arrive at about the same time as ground crews, saving time.