Decision support tool and suggestions for the development of guidelines for the helicopter transport of patients with COVID-19

Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med. 2020 May 25;28(1):43. doi: 10.1186/s13049-020-00736-7.


The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV2 emerged in December 2019 and is now pandemic. Initial analysis suggests that 5% of infected patients will require critical care, and that respiratory failure requiring intubation is associated with high mortality.Sick patients are geographically dispersed: most patients will remain in situ until they are in need of critical care. Additionally, there are likely to be patients who require retrieval for other reasons but who are co-incidentally infected with SARS-CoV-2 or shedding virus.The COVID-19 pandemic therefore poses a challenge to critical care retrieval systems, which often depend on small teams of specialists who live and work together closely. The infection or quarantining of a small absolute number of these staff could catastrophically compromise service delivery.Avoiding occupational exposure to COVID-19, and thereby ensuring service continuity, is the primary objective of aeromedical retrieval services during the pandemic. In this discussion paper we collaborated with helicopter emergency medical services(HEMS) worldwide to identify risks in retrieving COVID-19 patients, and develop strategies to mitigate these.Simulation involving the whole aeromedical retrieval team ensures that safety concerns can be addressed during the development of a standard operating procedure. Some services tested personal protective equipment and protocols in the aeromedical environment with simulation. We also incorporated experiences, standard operating procedures and approaches across several HEMS services internationally.As a result of this collaboration, we outline an approach to the safe aeromedical retrieval of a COVID-19 patient, and describe how this framework can be used to develop a local standard operating procedure.

Keywords: Aeromedical transport; COVID-19; HEMS; Helicopter emergency medical service; Infectious disease; Retrieval; Transport.

MeSH terms

  • Aircraft
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections*
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Pandemics*
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Pneumonia, Viral*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Respiratory Insufficiency
  • SARS-CoV-2