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Injured patients transferred by helicopter fare better

When you are involved in a serious car accident, the first thing that you expect is to be taken to the hospital to be treated for your injuries. But, a recently released study shows that those who are seriously injured and transported by a helicopter have a better survival rate than those transported by an ambulance. Will this mean changes to how ambulances respond to car accidents?

The study doesn't go into why a helicopter transfer is better, but there are some obvious reasons. One possibility is that a helicopter can travel faster than an ambulance and a helicopter has a medical team on board. An ambulance has trained personnel onboard, but not a doctor or a nurse.

The University of Maryland School of Medicine conducted the study and used national databases of severely injured patients treated at more than 900 specialized trauma centers across the United States between 2007 and 2009. What researchers found is that at a first glance it looks like ambulance-transported patients fared best, over helicopter-transported patients. But when the researchers took out factors that could influence the results, the data shifted. Factors taken out of the equation included the patients' age, type of injury and vital signs. Once these factors were removed, researchers found that being taken to the hospital by a helicopter gave a patient a one to two percent higher chance of survival over the ambulance.

So should all patients be transported by helicopter? In most cases, this won't happen because of cost and location of the accident. Not all accidents will need a medical helicopter and are currently used only in specific medical cases. In addition, most people involved in a car accident don't have a say on how they are taken to a hospital, they just want to get treated for their injuries at the nearest hospital and as quickly as possible.

Costs are another factor that plays into the decision of using a medical helicopter, but the study does open up discussion on ways that ambulances can improve overall. It could mean more training or efficiencies in what they currently do at an accident scene.

Source: Reuters, "Trauma patients taken by chopper may fare better," Andrew M. Seaman, April 17, 2012

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