Lead author Dr. Mark Gestring, director of the Kessler Trauma Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, says helicopter-transport patients not only tend to be more severely injured, but also travel greater distances, require more hospital resources -- including intensive care unit, use of a ventilator to assist breathing and urgent surgery -- yet are more likely to survive than patients brought to trauma centers by ground ambulance.
Gestring, who serves on the board of Mercy Flight Central Inc., an air medical services company based in Canandaigua, N.Y., says the study included patients transported from the scene of an injury to a trauma center by helicopter or ground transportation in 2007.
The researchers used the National Trauma Databank to identify 258,387 patients -- 16 percent were transported by helicopter and 84 percent were transported by ground. The study shows air transport makes a difference in patient outcomes but there are no data available to explain why helicopter-transported patients do better.
Study authors say the speed of transport and the air-medical crews providing therapies and technologies not universally available to ground unit crews may be the main reasons for the positive patient outcomes.
The findings are published in The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection and Critical Care.
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