Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Traumatic Cost

A couple nights ago a taxi driver was shot in the stomach during a robbery attempt in front of Borders book store in Sand City. The robbers got away, and the cabbie is recovering at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP). I wish the driver well, and hope the criminals are caught very soon. But that's not why I'm writing. 

In reporting this story, KION/KCBA News stated that a Calstar medical helicopter had been called to fly the victim to a San Francisco Bay Area trauma center. However, adverse weather conditions scrubbed the flight, and the patient was transported to CHOMP by ambulance. 

This raises a very important question. If CHOMP was perfectly capable of handling this case, why was it the second choice and not the first? Calstar flights take three to four times as long as an ambulance ride up Carmel Hill. In this case the ride to the hospital was no longer than the ride to the airport would have been. The helicopter would also have taken the victim far from the personal support he undoubtedly needs from family and friends. 

Furthermore, Calstar flights are damned expensive. They range from $25,000 to $37,000 per flight depending on the situation. Most of the costs are borne by health insurance, but can still leave victims with enormous bills if they are not fully covered. And don't forget, unnecessary medical transport costs raises insurance rates for everyone. 

The only statistics I could find on this matter was from another blog, which noted that Calstar transported 373  patients from Monterey County in 2008. That amounts to somewhere between $9.325 million to $13.8 million for the year. And that's just for transportation. It doesn't include a penny for actual treatment beyond what is needed to prep and support the patient for the flight. I can't help but wonder if that money wouldn't be better spent providing actual trauma care within Monterey County instead.

I'm not saying there is no need for medical helicopter services. But I do remember a time when they did not exist, and local hospitals took care of accident victims as a matter of routine. Today it appears that so-called "life flights" are now the first resort for serious injuries. Given their enormous cost, their longer transport times, the problem of separating victims from loved ones, and the apparent availability of at least some local trauma care, they should be called in only when no suitable local treatment is available.


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