Operational experience of the Dutch helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic: jeopardy on the prehospital care system?

Quinten G H Rikken, Sarah Mikdad, Mathijs T Carvalho Mota, Marcel A De Leeuw, Patrick Schober, Lothar A Schwarte, Georgios F Giannakopoulos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Purpose: The SARS-CoV-2 virus has disrupted global and local medical supply chains. To combat the spread of the virus and prevent an uncontrolled outbreak with limited resources, national lockdown protocols have taken effect in the Netherlands since March 13th, 2020. The aim of this study was to describe the incidence, type and characteristics of HEMS and HEMS-ambulance ‘Lifeliner 1’ dispatches during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the same period one year prior. Methods: A retrospective review of all HEMS and HEMS-ambulance ‘Lifeliner 1’ dispatches was performed from the start of Dutch nationwide lockdown orders from March 13th until May 13th, 2020 and the corresponding period one year prior. Dispatch-, operational-, patient-, injury-, and on-site treatment characteristics were extracted for analysis. In addition, the rate of COVID-19 positively tested HEMS personnel and the time physicians were unable to take call was described. Results: During the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, the HEMS and HEMS-ambulance was requested in 528 cases. One year prior, a total of 620 requests were received. The HEMS (helicopter and ambulance) was cancelled after deployment in 56.4% of the COVID-19 cohort and 50.7% of the historical cohort (P = 0.05). Incident location type did not differ between the two cohorts, specifically, there was no significant difference in the number of injuries that occurred at home in pandemic versus non-pandemic circumstances. Besides a decrease in the number of falls, the distribution of mechanisms of injury remained similar during the COVID-19 study period. There was no difference in self-inflicted injuries observed. Prehospital interventions remained similar during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to one year prior. Specifically, prehospital intubation did not differ between the two cohorts. The rate of COVID-19 positively tested HEMS personnel was 23.1%. Physicians who tested positive were unable to take call for a mean of 25 days (range 8–53). Conclusion: A decrease in the number of deployments and increase in the number of cancelled missions was observed during the COVID-19 study period. No major differences in operational- and injury characteristics were found for HEMS and HEMS-ambulance dispatches between the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Netherlands and the same period one year prior. These findings highlight the importance of continued operability of the HEMS, even during pandemic circumstances. Level of evidence: III, retrospective comparative study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)703-711
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery
Volume47
Issue number3
Early online date12 Jan 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

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