Air ambulance transport of COVID-19 patients
Dr. Stephan Klose is an enthusiastic emergency physician and aviation aficionado and has been passionately serving his patients around the world for more than eight years on ground ambulances, helicopters and in ambulance and commercial aircraft. When he is not in the air professionally, he enjoys exploring new destinations and diving into the underwater world.
Transport solutions for COVID-19
The impacts of the Corona pandemic will continue to affect our daily lives for some time to come, despite the progress made in vaccination. Air Alliance has developed different air ambulance transport solutions for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, depending on the patient’s condition and the routing We asked our deputy medical director, Stephan Klose, MD, what needs to be considered.
Which isolation pods are used and when will they be deployed?
Since 2020, two state-of-the-art isolation pods of the type "EpiShuttle" have been successfully operated at Air Alliance. In addition, since April 2021, we have another isolation unit, the Isovac CAPSULS™ system, which can also be used on smaller ambulance jets. With the Epishuttle isolation unit, we are able to safely transport patients of all severities of COVID-19 disease and provide them with comprehensive medical care. It is used on our Challenger 604 long-haul jets on routes worldwide. The Isovac Capsules System enhances our COVID-19 transport solutions in many ways. As a double isolation transport, two COVID-19 patients can be transported simultaneously in the Challenger 604. As a compact and flexible solution, Isovac Capsules can also be used in the Learjet fleet and provide a cost-effective alternative to the Epishuttle. The domain of transports in the Isovac Capsules system, however, is the transport of COVID-19 patients with milder courses of disease, especially on short and medium-haul routes. Therefore, not every patient can be transported in the Isovac Capsules System and the selection of the most suitable system is made by our medical department on the basis of clear protocols.
Can COVID-19 patients be flown without an isolation unit?
The safety of all staff involved is our top priority. At the same time, we offer our patients the best possible medical care. No isolation unit is required for flights of COVID-19 patients who are artificially ventilated with a breathing tube, as the airways, which are the main source of transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, are connected to the ventilators via a closed system and high-quality filters effectively filter out exhaled viruses. Hygiene protocols also ensure safe management of all potentially contaminated surfaces and contact areas.
Are family members allowed on board Corona flights?
Whenever the situation allows, we are happy to allow relatives to accompany the patient during the flight. As extensive equipment is used on isolation flights and extended crews are often used on long flights, the remaining space on board is limited. Bringing at least one accompanying person is possible in most cases on flights with our Challenger 604 aircraft, as long as they can be proven to be free of COVID-19 disease through an acute PCR test. Unfortunately, due to the limited space on our Learjet fleet, it is not possible for a relative to fly with us on an isolation transport.
How do you deal on site with patients who are positive despite testing negative previously?
Our common goal is to enable every patient to be transported from their often difficult situation abroad to a hospital close to home with often improved medical options. We have developed various strategies to be able to respond to short-term and unforeseen positive test results. This starts with extensive training of all deployed staff, pilots and medics alike, on the proper use of protective clothing, and is escalated to taking compact isolation units such as the Isovac Capsules System with us in suspected cases.
Are bed to bed transfers still possible?
A handover of the patient in the hospital bed at the point of departure is the gold standard for us, as this is where the most information can be gathered and the medical condition can be comprehensively assessed and, if necessary, optimised before the flight. Whenever possible, we continue to offer the full bed-to-bed service. However, due to various entry, quarantine and security regulations of the authorities, free movement in many countries is currently excluded even for our crews. An individual assessment is made for each flight as to whether a hospital transfer is possible.
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