When Transporting Injured Workers, Remember to Consider the Skies

2 months ago

When Transporting Injured Workers, Remember to Consider the Skies

When we think about providing much-needed transportation to an injured worker during their recovery, the obvious choices come to mind – vans, sedans, and even ridesharing. But how often do we consider air ambulance?

Perhaps the first thought that comes to mind is, “That’ll be way too expensive.” Often, people believe this because of stories they hear. Take, for instance, a recent story by NPR about a man who was flown from Colorado to North Carolina because he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a fast-growing blood cancer. The air ambulance ride cost $489,000.

Stories about children and babies are even more heart wrenching, like a story by KUSA-TV about an infant who was having trouble breathing due to bronchiolitis and bacterial pneumonia. He had to be flown 60 miles to a children’s hospital to save his life. The bill was nearly $65,000.

While these stories are sad, and true, the good news for injured workers is that when coordinated through the workers’ compensation system, air ambulance transportation is most often a cost-effective option.

Let’s consider an injured worker with a post-acute, complex spinal cord injury – we’ll call him Sam. Sam is at a rehabilitation center in the Upper Midwest and needs to get back to his home in Dallas, Texas. Both the rehabilitation center and the nurse case manager recommend ground ambulance transportation to the adjuster overseeing the claim.

Good news for Sam – his adjuster has used air ambulance to transport injured workers in the past and knows it is a viable option. She requests a breakdown and quote from the air ambulance company so she can compare it with ground transportation.  

To provide an accurate quote, the air ambulance company contacts the rehabilitation center and discusses Sam’s needs in detail. They learn he is suffering from pressure ulcers and needs to be straight catheterized every four to six hours.

It will take more than 48 hours to transport Sam via ground ambulance, given the need to stop frequently to straight catheterize and reposition him. In addition, it will be important to know of every level one facility on the route home in case Sam’s status changes and he needs emergent care.

Now let’s consider the air ambulance option. It is determined the flight time will be just over two-and-a-half hours long. After everything Sam’s already been through, dealing with, and trying to accept, two hours vs. 48 hours will be a much less stressful experience for Sam. In addition, because the trip is so much shorter, Sam won’t compound his pressure ulcers or develop any other medical issues.

Now comes the big question – cost. Often, the cost difference between ground and air transportation is minimal. In this instance, air ambulance was more expensive, but only by $900. Nine hundred dollars is a small cost to pay to provide Sam with a much more pleasant experience, and ultimately, prevent additional complications that could end up costing more in the long run.

By coordinating care through the workers’ compensation system, injured workers can have access to this critical mode of transportation. Injured workers who are amputees, ventilated, having difficulty breathing, or suffering from a spinal cord, burn, or traumatic brain injury are all great candidates for air ambulance transportation. If the injury occurs in a remote area, an air ambulance ride can even mean the difference between life and death.

Through workers’ compensation, air ambulance is usually available across the U.S, and even around the world. Flight crews often consist of dedicated teams that include critical care RNs (CCRNs), advanced-certified critical care paramedics, certified respiratory therapists, anesthesiologists, and critical care MDs. In addition, all the necessary equipment is onboard to meet the clinical needs of an injured worker, including defibrillator and pacing capabilities, multiple IV capacity pumps, pulse oximeter, advanced life support, ventilator, ECG monitor, cardiac monitor, and ALS respiratory kits.

With cost differences usually minimal, there is simply no reason to rely only on ground transportation when caring for injured workers, especially those in more critical condition. It is time to look to the skies and fly.

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This article originally appeared in WorkCompWire.

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