What does “level of care” mean? Every medical facility, right down to a neighborhood walk-in clinic, organizes its medical preparations and treatments according to the intensity of the service that each medical condition requires. Knowing the appropriate level of care helps to make sure that each patient’s needs are fully met. Aero-medical levels of care are very similar to the descriptions used on the ground — with the added layer of everything that goes into safe, comfortable flying. In the broadest terms, there are three levels of care.
Basic Life Support
Basic Life Support is a staff-and-equipment network of preventive, “just in case” measures. BLS is the safety net when a patient needs minimal external life support, but still requires medical monitoring and care. Typical equipment on a BLS flight includes an FAA approved stretcher, oxygen, cardiopulmonary monitoring, and support for breathing and circulatory-system issues. A flight-certified paramedic or flight-certified nursing specialist monitors a patient’s IV lines, for example, takes blood pressure at regular intervals, and tracks heart function and stress levels.
Advanced Life Support
Advanced Life Support is a network of staff and equipment that includes basic life support and adds the the means to perform cardiac defibrillation, control dysrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), insert IV lines and administer drugs, and establish and maintain airways. In addition, flight-certified medics and nurses are trained to respond to the particular situation that initiated medical move in the first place. Patient situations that rely on advanced life support include trauma, burns, cardiac failure, and other conditions requiring advanced care.
Critical Care flights are the most medically intensive level of patient transportation. The aircraft’s on-board network of equipment and staff hold advanced certifications and have undergone rigorous aero-medical evaluations. A critical-care flight typically uses external life support. The medical staff provides continuous physiological and psychological monitoring with flight-capable equipment. The flight staff, pilot and patient are literally an airborne ICU hospital unit, capable of sustaining the most intensive level of care throughout the flight.