An analysis of patients transported by a private helicopter emergency service within South Africa
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Introduction: A Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) is a specialist flying emergency service where on-board medical personnel have both the knowledge and equipment to perform complicated medical procedures. There is an absence of literature describing the types of patients treated and the clinical outcome of these patients flown by Helicopter Emergency Medical Services within South Africa. The paucity of literature on this topic poses a challenge for current aeromedical services as there is no baseline information on which to base flight criteria, staffing and policy documents. This has the potential to hamper the advancement of HEMS within South Africa. Purpose of the study: The purpose of this study was to undertake a descriptive analysis of the patients flown by the Netcare 911 HEMS over a 12 month period in both Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal and to assess the patients’ outcomes. The objectives of the study were to analyse the clinical demographics of patients transported by the Netcare 911 HEMS operation, determine the time frames from dispatch of the helicopter to delivery of the patient to the receiving hospital and undertake a correlational analysis of crew qualifications, clinical procedures performed and their outcomes at 24 hours and 72 hours. A further objective was to make recommendations regarding the refinement of current aeromedical policies as well as the education and training requirements. Methodology: The research study was conducted utilizing a retrospective quantitative, descriptive design to undertake an analysis of patients transported by a private helicopter emergency medical service within South Africa. The records of all patients transported by the Netcare 911 HEMS operations between 01 January 2011 and 31 December 2011 were included. Results: In the 12 month study period there were a total of 547 cases. However, the final study population was made up of 537 cases as 10 cases had to be excluded due to incomplete documentation. Of the 537 cases, 82 (15.3%) were managed by the KwaZulu-Natal HEMS and 455 (84.7%) were managed by the Gauteng HEMS. Findings revealed that the majority of patients flown in both Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal were adult males: males (n=398; 74.1%) and adults (n=437; 81.4%). Motor vehicle accidents were the most common incident type for both operations (n=193; 36%). At the 24-hour follow up, 339 (63.1%) patients were alive and stable and at the 72-hour follow up, 404 (75.3%) were alive and stable. Conclusion and recommendations The findings of this study provide valuable information that may have an impact on the current staffing and authorization criteria of South African HEMS operations.