Objective: To evaluate the medical efficacy of helicopter scene flights for patients with noncranial penetrating injuries.
Design: A retrospective review of 122 consecutive victims of noncranial penetrating injuries evacuated by helicopter from the scene of injury to a level I trauma center. There were no medical criteria for accepting or rejecting a request for a scene flight by any public safety agency or emergency medical service (EMS). Flights were dispatched if the weather permitted and if a helicopter was available.
Results: The majority of patients were critically wounded. Their average Revised Trauma Score was 10.6, and 15.6% of the patients died (19 of 122), including all 11 patients who required prehospital cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Helicopter transport from the scene did not hasten trauma center arrival for any of the 122 patients. Ninety-two of the first-responder EMS units (75.4%) were advanced life support units (ALS) with crews of paramedics. The remaining 30 (24.6%) first-responder EMS units were basic life support units (BLS) with crews of emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Six of 122 patients (4.9%) required medical interventions by the medical flight crews beyond the capabilities of the ground EMS personnel. Only 3 of the 92 patients (3.3%) treated by first-responding paramedics received medical interventions by the medical flight crews beyond those authorized for paramedics (one cricothyroidotomy and two needle thoracenteses). Two of the 30 patients (6.7%) treated by first-responding EMTs received medical interventions by the medical flight crews not authorized for the EMTs. The on-seene paramedics performed endotracheal intubation on 10 patients. However, because of subsequent clinical deterioration, the medical flight crews performed endotracheal intubations on nine additional patients. In addition, two patients intubated by the first-responding paramedics required reintubation by the medical flight crews.
Conclusions: Scene flights in this metropolitan area for patients who suffered noncranial penetrating injuries demonstrated that these flights were not medically efficacious. This conclusion rests on the findings that arrival at a trauma center was not hastened by scene flights and that only 4.9% of patients required prehospital care by the medical flight crew beyond the capabilities of the first-responding EMS personnel (2.5 and 6.7% for ALS and BLS responders, respectively). Based on this experience, we believe that in metropolitan areas, scene flights for victims of noncranial penetrating injuries should be restricted to critically injured patients likely to require prehospital care by the medical flight crew that is beyond the capabilities of the first responders or when the scene flight is likely to significantly hasten the arrival of the injured patient to an appropriate trauma center.