4 January 2018

After the Danish emergency medical helicopters have been operational for three years, there is now focus on which types of patients they fly to and what difference the emergency medical helicopter service makes to the patients. This is being studied in a new research project supported by the Health Research Foundation of Central Denmark Region and Danish Air Ambulance’s research pool.

Are you severely injured along the coast of Western Jutland, do you suffer a blood clot on Southern Zealand or a stroke on one of the islands? If so, it is highly probable that an emergency medical helicopter will come to your rescue.

Last year, the emergency medical helicopters flew to just under 3,600 patients. They are primarily sent to patients with symptoms of time-critical conditions such as a blood clot in the heart or brain and severe injury. When someone calls 1-1-2 about a critically ill patient, the staff in the regions’ five Emergency Medical Dispatch Centres assess whether there is a need to supplement the road ambulance, an acute medical car and an emergency vehicle with an emergency medical helicopter to ensure the best possible care for the patient. The decision must typically be made quickly and often on the basis of scarce information about the patient’s medical condition.

Does the emergency medical helicopter fly to the most critically ill patients?

Assessing when there is a need for an emergency medical helicopter is a complex task. The purpose of the three-year research project is to contribute with knowledge that makes it possible to optimise the emergency medical helicopter service for the most critically ill and injured patients.

“With the emergency medical helicopters, we can provide a highly specialised response to patients already on site and ensure rapid transport for further hospital treatment. The emergency medical helicopters are used more and more frequently, and it’s therefore necessary to assess which patients they are sent to and which effect the assistance provided by the emergency medical helicopter has on patients’ survival, mobility and use of the public health service,” says Karen Alstrup, Anaesthesiologist, Prehospital Emergency Physician and PhD student at the Prehospital, Central Denmark Region and Aarhus University Hospital.

First Nordic study

Emergency medical helicopter callouts are cancelled in up to one-third of the flights on which the helicopter has been dispatched to assist patients. The cancellation may be due to a number of factors, e.g. that ambulance staff, an acute medical car or an emergency vehicle, which is often the first to arrive on site, assesses that the patient can receive the right care without use of the emergency medical helicopter or that the patient is not as ill as first assumed. In such case, the emergency medical helicopter is cancelled so that it is available and can be sent to another patient.

According to Karen Alstrup, it is to be expected that the emergency medical helicopter is cancelled on some of the callouts. But it is important to examine the reasons for the cancellations and to look at the outcome for the patients. As the first Nordic study, the research project is focusing on both completed and cancelled flights.

“The aim is to find out how we utilise the emergency medical helicopters and other prehospital resources optimally. We will conduct a detailed study of the current activities of the emergency medical helicopters and of the patients who receive assistance to assess whether they are used as intended,” explains Karen Alstrup.

The Health Research Foundation of Central Denmark Region supports the research project with DKK 813,600, while Danish Air Ambulance’s Research Committee supports the research project with DKK 987,600.

Karen Alstrup is pleased with the support for the research project and hopes that the new knowledge can contribute to the emergency medical helicopters being able to provide even more targeted services, in collaboration with, for example, road ambulances, to the benefit of the most critically ill patients.

Facts about the emergency medical helicopters

  • Danish Air Ambulance is a national helicopter emergency medical service and is funded by the Danish State.
  • The emergency medical helicopters fly from bases in Ringsted, Skive and Billund, but they can be dispatched throughout Denmark.
  • The emergency medical helicopters are operated from the regions’ five Emergency Medical Dispatch Centres. They are dispatched based on an assessment of, among other factors, whether there is a time-related gain in relation to transporting the patient to specialised treatment or sending a physician to examine the patient.
  • More than every third flight is to patients with cardiovascular disease symptoms. Other large groups are patients with blood clot or brain haemorrhage symptoms and patients with severe injuries, for example after major traffic accidents.
  • The helicopters form part of a close collaboration with the regions’ other prehospital resources. An ambulance is often the first to arrive on site to provide emergency assistance and prepare the patient for quick loading onto the helicopter when it arrives.
  • Many of the flights concern critically ill and injured patients in peripheral areas of Denmark, including flights to municipalities in Western Jutland, the islands and southern and western municipalities on Zealand.

Read more about the project at:

http://www.ph.rm.dk/forskning/projekter (in Danish)

More information

Karen Alstrup, Anaesthesiologist and PhD student, mobile: +45 5190 1914, email: karealst@rm.dk

Leif Rognås, Lead Clinician, PhD and principal supervisor on the PhD programme, mobile: +45 40 29 16 97, leifrogn@rm.dk