Big Problem for Air Ambulances: Huge Patients

Providers have to upgrade helicopters or reject patients

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 17, 2013 3:44 AM CDT

(Newser) – Emergency medical providers across America are being forced to get bigger, stronger helicopters to deal with rising numbers of patients too heavy to be carried in the current helicopters—or too big to fit in the aircraft, NBC reports. Around 1% of patients who need medical air flights, or about 5,000 patients a year, are denied transport because of their size and have to go by ground ambulance instead, significantly raising the risk of death on the way to the hospital.

Weight limits vary around the country, with some providers turning away patients over 250 pounds and others able to carry patients up to 650 pounds. "It’s an issue for sure," says an exec at Air Methods, one of the biggest air medical transport providers. "We can get to a scene and find that the patient is too heavy to be able to go." The exec himself had weight-loss surgery after he reached 335 pounds and was alarmed to realize that he was to big to fit on the company's aircraft.

Medical helicopter flight crews now keep measuring tools on board to make sure patients can fit inside.
Medical helicopter flight crews now keep measuring tools on board to make sure patients can fit inside.   (Shutterstock)
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