Background: The South African setting lends itself to the extensive use of air transport. There is a perception with healthcare providers that flight crews spend too much time with a patient before departure. The main advantage of aero medical transport is to minimise the delay to definitive care and prolonged on-scene time defies this objective. A study was carried out to examine the mean on-scene times of aero medical and road transport of critically ill patients in the Western Cape of South Africa.
Methods: In this retrospective observational study, all critically ill patients transported in the Western Cape between September 2005 and May 2006 were evaluated. The mean on-scene time for each transport mode was calculated. Road transport was compared with air transport (rotor and fixed wing). Every transport mode was further divided into mission types: “scene” missions (scene to a healthcare facility) or “inter-facility” missions (from one healthcare facility to another).
Results: A total of 7924 transports were included in the study, 7580 of which (95.7%) were road transports. The air transport group spent 53.2 min (95% CI 51.1 to 55.4) at the scene compared with 27.9 min (95% CI 27.5 to 28.4) for the road transport group. There was a significant difference between scene and inter-facility missions in the air transport group (mean 31.7 min for scene missions vs 58.7 min for inter-facility missions; p<0.001). A significant difference was also found in the road transport (mean 24.6 min for scene missions vs 31.9 min for inter-facility missions; p<0.001).
Conclusion: The on-scene time for transport missions by road is significantly less than for those done by air. There are significant differences between scene and inter-facility missions in both transport modes. Capacity building programmes with ongoing education and training of staff at referring facilities should be implemented.
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Competing interests: None.
Ethics approval: Approval for this study was obtained from South African Red Cross Air Mercy Service management, Western Cape Emergency Medical Services management and from the Committee for Human Research at Stellenbosch University.
Contributions: DJvH had the original idea, collected the data and wrote the first draft; all authors contributed to the final paper. DJvH is the guarantor.