Introduction: To determine if air medical interhospital transport of patients with spinal injuries is done with techniques that minimize ischemic skin damage.
Methods: A formal telephone survey instrument was given to all U.S. flight services accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS).
Results: Thirty-seven active services were listed by CAMTS; the author's service was excluded from the survey. One service did only scene responses; one was unreachable by phone; four were unwilling to complete the form, leaving 30 services for evaluation. Twenty-nine services used metal, plywood, or plastic "spine" boards for immobilization during interhospital transport. Eight services padded boards with blankets or cloth for patients immobilized for "extended periods." Eighteen services routinely reimmobilized all major trauma patients even if cleared by the sending physician, and four others reimmobilized patients not "cleared" by a radiologist. No service moved patients with known spinal injuries to softer, more conforming devices before transport. Only three services followed patients for complications throughout hospitalization. Two services reported cases of skin breakdown thought to be a result of prolonged immobilization.
Conclusion: Air medical services often transport patients several hours after injury. Patients, particularly those unable to move because of their injuries, medication, or paralysis, are at risk for ischemic necroses of their skin. Decubitus ulcers are a major cause of morbidity and mortality, and preventing ulcers requires a very soft, conforming surface. Despite these facts, the highly select services surveyed continue to use hard, slippery boards designed for extrication at trauma scenes to immobilize patients for transport.