Comparison of helicopter and ground emergency medical service: a retrospective analysis of a German rescue helicopter base

Technol Health Care. 2012;20(1):49-56. doi: 10.3233/THC-2011-0655.


Background: In consideration of rising cost pressure in the German health care system, the usefulness of helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) in terms of time- and cost-effectiveness is controversially discussed. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether HEMS is associated with significantly decreased arrival and transportation times compared to ground EMS.

Methods: In a retrospective study, we evaluated 1,548 primary emergency missions for time sensitive diagnoses (multiple trauma, traumatic brain and burn injury, heart-attack, stroke, and pediatric emergency) performed by a German HEMS using the medical database, NADIN, of the German Air Rescue Service. Arrival and transportation times were compared to calculated ground EMS times.

Results: HEMS showed significantly reduced arrival times at the scene in case of heart-attack, stroke and pediatric emergencies. In contrast, HEMS and ground EMS showed comparable arrival times in patients with multiple trauma, traumatic brain and burn injury due to an increased flight distance. HEMS showed a significantly decreased transportation time to the closest centre capable of specialist care in all diagnosis groups (p<0.001).

Conclusions: The results of the present study indicate the time-effectiveness of German air ambulance services with significantly decreased transportation times.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Ambulances / economics
  • Air Ambulances / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ambulances / economics
  • Ambulances / statistics & numerical data
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Emergency Medical Services / economics
  • Emergency Medical Services / methods
  • Emergency Medical Services / organization & administration
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Time Factors
  • Transportation of Patients / economics
  • Transportation of Patients / methods
  • Trauma Severity Indices