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Helicopter Ambulances May Boost Survival Rates

FRIDAY, June 21 (HealthDay News) -- Despite having more serious injuries, patients taken to the hospital by helicopter ambulance had a higher survival rate than those taken by ground ambulance, according to a new study.

Researchers examined data from 13,000 patients taken by ambulance to more than 300 European medical centers. Of those patients, one-third were transported to the hospital by helicopter. Such patients generally had more serious problems, including chest and abdominal injuries that required extensive treatment at the scene of the accident.

The helicopter-transported patients also were more likely to suffer complications -- such as blood infections and multiple organ failure -- and to require more time in the hospital before being released home, the investigators found. These patients, however, still had a better survival rate than those transported by ground ambulances.

The findings were published in the current online edition of the journal Critical Care.

Because patient diagnosis and quality of hospital care appeared to be the same whether patients arrived by helicopter or ground ambulance, the study's authors thought there must be another reason for the difference in survival rates.

"These patients tend to be the most severely injured; nevertheless, the care they receive from medical staff at the scene and during transport, plus speed of transport, means that patients are more likely to survive," Dr. Hagen Andruszkow, of the University Hospital Aachen in Germany, said in a journal news release. "This needs to be taken into account when deciding to start or continue with air ambulance services."

Helicopters have been used as ambulances for many decades, and for much of that time there has been debate about the cost of the service compared to the benefit in saving lives. These findings suggest that air ambulances are effective and worth the investment, the researchers said.

More information

The American College of Emergency Physicians provides facts about medical emergencies.

SOURCE: Critical Care, news release, June 20, 2013

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