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Thu, Apr 21, 2005

Forget Surgery, Learn To Fly Helicopters

Malpractice Crisis, Urban Sprawl Means More Medevacs in Pennsylvania

From the always-interesting Walter Olson at Overlawyered.com, we learn it's an ill wind that blows no good. The ill wind is the malpractice crisis in Pennsylvania, and the beneficiaries, apart from the usual (both plaintiffs' and defense lawyers), include medevac helicopter operators.

As the litigation onslaught and the insurance rates it brings destroy more and more medical practices and drive more and more surgeons and trauma centers out of business, more surgical patients and accident victims need to be airlifted to distant hospitals.

"Emergency flights in Chester County went from 123 in 2001, the year before Brandywine Hospital, near Coatesville, closed its trauma center, to 662 last year," the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The last full-time neurosurgeon in Chester County left in 2003, according to the newspaper. Neurosurgeons in the Keystone State face malpractice premiums of over a quarter of a million dollars a year; according to figures in the Inquirer, there are 29.3% fewer of these specialists in statewide now (152) than there were ten years ago (215).

One apparent result is a boom in helicopter operations -- and operators. Chester County has gone from one medical helicopter operator to six over the years. That closely tracks the change in operations, from 123 to 662, since the liability crisis caused the closure of the trauma center.

However, not everyone agrees that the problem is entirely caused by Pennsylvania's long-running liability crunch. Crowded emergency rooms are another factor, as patients are flown to less-busy hospitals; and the effects of urban sprawl and its attendant traffic congestion are also factors. In Montgomery County, where medevac flights are up about two thirds since 2001, the director of emergency services puts most of the blame on traffic congestion, which prevents ground ambulances from getting patients to the county trauma center in the lifesaving "golden hour" after injury.

Any way you slice it, that means that a shortage of doctors means no shortage of opportunity for helicopter pilots and flight nurses. Ironically, we've been hearing anecdotes that major Part 141 training operations have been getting physicians among their career-changers. But that doesn't mean that young eagles necessarily ought to start aiming their training towards flying medevac flights. The operators generally prefer retired military pilots, who are often still young and are attuned to high-pressure, all-weather operations in demanding conditions.

FMI: www.overlawyered.com, www.heli.com

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