Background: The long-term health outcomes and costs of helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) assistance remain uncertain. The aim of this study was to investigate the cost-effectiveness of HEMS assistance compared with emergency medical services (EMS).
Methods: A prospective cohort study was performed at a level I trauma centre. Quality-of-life measurements were obtained at 2 years after trauma, using the EuroQol-Five Dimensions (EQ-5D) as generic measure to determine health status. Health outcomes and costs were combined into costs per quality-adjusted life year (QALY).
Results: The study population receiving HEMS assistance was more severely injured than that receiving EMS assistance only. Over the 4-year study interval, HEMS assistance saved a total of 29 additional lives. No statistically significant differences in quality of life were found between assistance with HEMS or with EMS. Two years after trauma the mean EQ-5D utility score was 0.70 versus 0.71 respectively. The incremental cost-effectiveness ratio for HEMS versus EMS was 28,327 Euro per QALY. The sensitivity analysis showed a cost-effectiveness ratio between 16,000 and 62,000 Euro.
Conclusion: In the Netherlands, the costs of HEMS assistance per QALY remain below the acceptance threshold. HEMS should therefore be considered as cost effective.