Emergency doctors join push for better EMS helicopter safety
■ Recommendations include more physician oversight and accreditation for medevac operators.
By Brian Hedger — Posted March 9, 2009
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The American College of Emergency Physicians is calling for changes to the way medevac helicopter services operate.
Following the National Transportation Safety Board's public hearings on helicopter emergency medical services in February, the college released recommendations to improve safety. Chief among them is adding more physician control in medical decisions that call for EMS helicopters.
"We want the decision to be made by somebody who has a concern for the patient," said ACEP President Nick Jouriles, MD.
The ACEP also called on states to develop EMS protocols and require flight operators to be accredited. Other suggestions include:
- Training pilots better and giving them more accurate weather updates.
- Requiring all medical flight dispatchers to meet Federal Aviation Administration standards.
- Using helicopter terrain awareness warning systems and night-vision technology.
- Establishing state protocols for patient destination regardless of state lines or the helicopter's institution.
In 2008, there were a record 28 fatalities in seven medevac crashes in the U.S.
The NTSB made four recommendations in 2006 that it hoped would become federal regulations. Among them were installation of terrain awareness warning systems, and use of increased weather-minimum and pilot-rest duty requirements on all medically staffed flights.
The safety board is reviewing data collected at its February public hearings, and may issue new recommendations to the FAA, said NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway.
Meanwhile, the FAA released an updated fact sheet Feb. 2 stating all flights with medical personnel must operate under stricter weather minimums, and that flight crews must determine safe altitude and obstacle clearance before each flight.