In order to clarify for those that are unaware of this kind of non-emergency medical transportation, let’s begin with explaining the service and profession of commercial medical escorts. A Commercial Medical Escort is a type of non-emergency medical transportation that is provided to people who require special medical attention during their trip. The transport itself is one in which a patient is escorted on a commercial airline (hence the name) with the aid of a nurse or paramedic to tend to their specific medical needs. Reasons for this kind of non-emergency medical transport can include, but are not limited to: surgical, neurological complications, endocrine disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, mental health, cardiopulmonary complications, and injuries as a result of an accident such as a motor vehicle crash.
The first thing to consider when looking for a commercial medical escort is the patient’s medical concerns. The general challenge that people face when flying is the effects of reduced atmospheric pressure on certain patients and the amount of space there is to care for the patient. For example, if a patient is unable to sit upright during takeoff and landing than a CME may not be the best option for transportation. There are no commercial airlines within the U.S. that allow for patients that require stretchers, and only a handful of international commercial airlines still accept stretcher cases. In essence, commercial airlines are just another form of public transportation. They are not designed to be medical transports and therefore do not have real provisions for carrying patients. However, in the US, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are requirements for all industries to have certain accommodations for persons with disabilities. Similarly, the American Aviation Medical Assistance Act of 1998 increased requirements for medical equipment carried on commercial airplanes, including mandatory defibrillators. The first class cabin provides more room than the coach class and is normally used for CME transports.
The next thing to consider when looking for a commercial medical escort is the personnel involved in the transport. Some companies claim that they provide “qualified” staff for the escort; but one must ask, are they really qualified to do the job? For example, certain companies will claim to employ “nurses” when in fact they are nothing more than former emergency medical technicians (EMTs) rather than an actual registered nurse or certified paramedic. The problem with this scenario is that EMTs are not allowed to provide treatments that require breaking the skin; they are only trained to control hemorrhages, bandages, splint injuries, take vital signs, administer oxygen and perform basic life support care.
A Paramedic or Registered Nurse is trained and certified to handle such things as starting IV lines, administering medications, and providing advanced airway management for patients. They have studied anatomy & physiology, pharmacology, and other courses. They are also certified to provide advanced life support as well as basic life support. Commercial medical escorts are often relegated to be seen as nothing more than a babysitter when, in fact, they have a huge undertaking when assisting a patient during a transport. Contrary to certain popular opinions, escorts are not merely “hand-holders;” they must know various customs and airline etiquette, as well as what is medically necessary for the patient.
And finally, something to consider when looking for a commercial medical escort is time constraints. Commercial escorts generally have lead time requirements. These time requirements are needed to arrange things like oxygen, fit to fly orders for the patient, and wheelchair assistance, ground transportation to and from the airports. Airlines can add to these timescales if they so choose, making availability difficult so that, while they don’t decline, they can severely limit options. Advanced planning is required in order to ensure all patient needs can be met for the flight.
As a form of long distance non-emergency medical transportation, commercial medical escorts can be a cost effective alternative for transporting a patient using private air ambulance.
Contact Medical Transport Services for more information or to schedule a Commercial Medical Escort for yourself or a loved one.
Credit: Clara Brooks and Stan Robles