Association of Air Medical Services: Saving Lives at Home and Abroad

by HCE Exchange on January 6, 2014

Rick-Sherlock-thumb1Providing access to quality health care for all Americans is one of the guiding principles of the United States’ health care industry, and the air medical transport and critical-care ground transport system is a vital part of this industry, providing timely access to appropriate levels of care.

Approximately 45 million Americans live more than an hour by ground transport from a Level 1 Trauma Center. For those individuals, an integrated local air medical transport system is a lifesaver.

Supporting medical transport services

The Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS) represents organizations that serve as part of air medical and ground critical-care transport systems in the United States and around the world, primarily through advocacy and education.

AAMS straddles two of the most heavily regulated industries — aviation and health care. The association examines regulations on both sides to gauge the effects for its members and provide a voice within those regulating bodies for these professionals.

President and Chief Executive Officer Rick Sherlock said AAMS does a great deal of work representing members to Congress, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Health and Human Services, among others.

“Part of our goal is to be the organization that is contacted when an issue comes up, so we can be there to represent our members to the regulating bodies,” he said.

Sherlock came on board with the organization about two years ago and has worked to increase visibility among members and improve efficiency within AAMS itself. He brings valuable experience and a deep appreciation for the role of each individual who makes up AAMS’ membership. He served 33 years in the Army as a helicopter pilot and instructor, commanded aviation units, and was involved in strategic planning.

“I saw the benefits of the medical transport system in the military in peacetime and in wartime in Iraq,” he said. “I am a firm believer in that process and saw the faith our service members had in the military medevac system.”

That belief carries over into his decisions for future AAMS strategic plans and his full support of what the membership does for the communities they serve. He also understands the operational perspective of members, the nuances of fixed-wing and rotary-wing programs, their challenges, and varying mission profiles.

During his time as head of the organization, Sherlock said he has learned a great deal about the operational side of the industry as a whole — how the clinical side and medical side come together at the federal and state levels to provide care.

Funding research and education

AAMS also includes a charitable arm, the MedEvac Foundation International, that funds research, education, and outreach efforts for the medical transport industry. Medical transport professionals already provide the best quality care to stabilize patients on their way to a medical facility, saving lives and greatly improving outcomes, but exciting research is being done to enhance the level of care provided en route to the hospital.

One ongoing study Sherlock mentioned involves using ultrasound technology to diagnose a stroke and possibly begin treatment before the patient even enters the emergency room.

“The provision of critical care and high-level pre-hospital care makes a difference in outcomes,” he said. “Numerous patients have told me that without helicopter transport, they would not have survived. Knowing that more benefits are coming in the near future and the number of lives that can be saved by high-quality care en route to the hospital is an exciting thing to be a part of.”

In addition to ongoing research endeavors, the Foundation publishes a variety of resource documents designed to help AAMS members improve operations, as well as materials that members can share with the communities they serve to help the public understand AAMS’ role in the healthcare continuum.

The Foundation also provides much-needed financial assistance to support the families of AAMS members that have been injured or killed while on duty.

Reinforcing the care continuum

Air medical transport and ground critical-care transport continue to grow and be a vital part of the health-care community. Sherlock said many hospitals realize the value of these programs, as outcomes improve and length of stay is shorter for patients who receive care quickly.

As many small community hospitals face challenges and close their doors, access to care in rural areas is a struggle. Having a strong medical transport system that offers patients quality care in the air and fast access to larger facilities with appropriate levels of care is a life-saving necessity.

“When you have a time-sensitive injury or critical illness, the ability for Americans in rural areas to access an appropriate level of care is dependent on an air medical program,” Sherlock said. “AAMS is dedicated to supporting all aspects of the programs that save lives and allowing the industry to continue providing safe, effective transportation and care.”

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