Background. Medical transport using helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) has rapidly proliferated over the past decade. Because of issues of cost and safety, appropriate utilization is of increasing concern.
Objective. This study sought to describe the medical appropriateness of HEMS transports, using established guidelines, in a large national patient cohort.
Methods. A review was performed of all flights designated as inappropriate by a large national air medical company, Air Evac EMS Inc. (which operates Air Evac Lifeteam [AEL]), for the period from January 1, 2009, through December 31, 2009. Every flight was reviewed initially through a resource utilization process as well as a utilization review process. Medical appropriateness review criteria were derived from the Medicare Benefit Policy Manual and industry guidelines outlined by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS), Air Medical Physicians Association (AMPA) position papers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Guidelines for Field Triage, and published clinical peer-reviewed articles, as well as previous interactions with Medicare contractors and reimbursement appeal decisions. Higher scrutiny was given to flights of <30 or >100 miles. Records indicating a possible inappropriate flight (i.e., review criteria were not satisfied, but special circumstances existed) were further reviewed by a senior quality assurance/quality improvement (QA/QI) nurse and/or senior medical director and were categorized.
Results. During the study period, 27,697 flights were completed and reviewed, with 582 (2.1%) flights identified for further review by a senior QA/QI nurse and/or senior medical director. Of those, 367 (1.3%) were determined to be medically inappropriate flights. Inappropriate flights were most often on-scene flights (59.9%), were most often for adult patients (92.9%; median age 56.9 years; 25-75% interquartile range 42-75 years), and most often represented medical diagnoses (57.8%).
Conclusions. Based on established criteria, only 1.3% of total flights were determined to be inappropriate. This large national cohort demonstrated compliance with current industry standards.
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