Helicopter transport to trauma centers improves patient survival over ambulance transport

Research Activities, November 2012, No. 387

Despite having more serious injuries, patients transported to level-I or level-II trauma centers by helicopter had death rates comparable to those transported by ambulance (12.6 percent vs. 11 percent), found a new study. More than 50 million people in the United States are injured each year, resulting in around 169,000 deaths and a lifetime cost of $406 billion. The impact of helicopter transport versus ground transport on trauma patient outcomes has remained the subject of debate in the field, particularly because of the higher cost and limited availability of helicopter transport.

An icon of a helicopter

The researchers used statistical techniques to match comparable patients transported by either helicopters or ground transportation. They found that patients transported by helicopter to level-I trauma centers had 16 percent better survival odds than those driven to level-I centers. For patients transported to level-II trauma centers, helicopter patients had 15 percent better odds of survival. Overall, 18.2 percent of helicopter patients transported to level-I centers were discharged to rehabilitation. This contrasted with the 12.8 percent of comparably hurt ambulance patients discharged to rehabilitation centers.

The researchers calculate that 65 patients would need to be transported by helicopter rather than ground vehicle to a level-I trauma center to save one life, at an estimated cost of $325,000. The findings were based on analysis of data from the American College of Surgeons National Trauma Data Bank for 2007 through 2009. The researchers compared the survival of 61,909 patients with major trauma transported by helicopter with 161,566 patients receiving ground transportation. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS17952).

More details are in "Association between helicopter and ground emergency medical services and survival for adults with major trauma," by Samuel M. Galvagno, Jr., D.O., PhD, Elliott R. Haut, M.D., S. Nabeel Zafar, M.B.B.S., M.P.H., and others in the April 18, 2012 Journal of the American Medical Association 307(15), pp. 1602-1610.

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Current as of November 2012
Internet Citation: Helicopter transport to trauma centers improves patient survival over ambulance transport: Research Activities, November 2012, No. 387. November 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/12nov/1112RA11.html