In 2010, there were an estimated 44,700 U.S. helicopter transports from injury scenes to level-1 and level-2 trauma centers, with an average cost of about $6,500 per transport. The total annual cost is around $290 million. (Level-1 and -2 trauma centers are hospitals equipped and staffed to provide the highest levels of surgical care to trauma patients; level-1 centers offer a broader array of readily available specialty care, and also are committed to research and teaching efforts.)
Yet emergency helicopter transport sits in a cost-efficiency conundrum: It is most needed in remote, rural areas where transport by ground can take far longer than by air. These areas also tend to have sparser populations and therefore fewer calls for aid, making it difficult to recoup the overhead costs of maintaining helicopter services, Delgado said.
In some areas of the country, however, helicopters are automatically launched based on the 911 call. "Once ground responders and the helicopter arrive, sometimes they may find patients who are awake, talking and have stable vital signs," Delgado said. "The challenge is getting helicopters to patients who need them in a rapid fashion so the flight team can intervene and make a difference, but also know based on certain criteria who isn't sick enough to require air transport."
Most health economists consider medical interventions that yield a year of healthy life - a measure known as a quality-adjusted life-year - at a cost of between $50,000 and $100,000 to be cost-effective in high-income countries, such as the United States, Delgado said. If society is willing to pay as much as $100,000 toward helicopter transport for each QALY gained by the seriously injured patients, then helicopter transport needs to reduce t
|Contact: Sara Wykes|
Stanford University Medical Center