ACEP issues statement about improving medical helicopter safety

In light of last week’s hearing by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to address a rise in fatal medical helicopter crashes, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) issued a statement about improving helicopter safety.

The statement calls for physician oversight of state Emergency Medical Services (EMS) systems and for medical decisions about air medical patients to be made by physicians, based on the best interest of the patients. In addition, it calls for states to develop EMS protocols and to require accreditation for operating helicopter emergency medical services systems (HEMS).

“ACEP is committed to advancing the highest quality of emergency care, and we are committed to working with the NTSB and other state and federal agencies to ensure the safety of air medical transport services,” said Dr. Nick Jouriles, president of ACEP. “Medical helicopters have saved thousands of lives, and drastically cut emergency response time, but we must do everything we can to continue to improve safety and prevent tragic crashes.”

ACEP’s recommendations include:

  • Ensure that HEMS pilots are thoroughly trained and have ready access to accurate and timely weather data. The decision to “go or no-go” must belong solely to the pilot, insulated from the knowledge of the urgency of the patient.

  • Require medical flight dispatchers to meet all Federal Aviation Administration requirements for commercial dispatch.

  • Ensure that medical helicopters are equipped with new technologies equal to other commercial aircraft that will greatly reduce crashes into terrain or fixed objects.

  • States should develop HEMS protocols and best practices for patient destinations based on the medical needs of patients, irrespective of state boundaries or the helicopter’s institution.

  • The NTSB should develop recommendations to guide state governments in the discharge of their responsibilities to regulate facilities and ambulances, both air and ground, to achieve uniform best practices across states.

  • Fund and conduct research about HEMS dispatch decisionmaking.

For a copy of the complete statement, contact Mike Baldyga, public relations manager, at (202) 728-0610 ext. 3005 or send an email to

ACEP is a national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine with more than 27,000 members. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies.


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