Case Western Reserve building EHR-backed database to determine benefit of emergency helicopter transfers

Cleveland-based Case Western Reserve University is leading a study to test whether a computer algorithm that pulls information from patients' EHRs can help determine whether an emergency helicopter transfer is necessary.

While the ability to transfer patients by medical helicopter can be vital shortly after an individual sustains a traumatic injury, some medical experts have expressed concerns that emergency helicopters are being overused in certain situations, according to the news release. Helicopter transfers can cause patients to rack up high medical bills, which sometimes are not fully covered by insurance.

"I have moved a lot of people who didn't necessarily benefit from moving, and many of us had felt it was too automatic to just make the helicopter transfer, but we didn't have the numbers to back it up," said Andrew Reimer, Case Western Reserve assistant professor and a previous flight nurse as well as lead author on the study, according to a news release. "Now we do, so it's time to re-imagine the way we do non-time-sensitive transports."

Mr. Reimer worked with Cleveland Clinic Critical Care Transport Medical Director Damon Kralovic to develop an EHR dataset to help hospitals decide whether a patient should be transferred by helicopter. The team applied the dataset to existing research of thousands of patients to include those individuals' detailed medical conditions from before, during and after helicopter transport.

With the data, the researchers created a computer algorithm that can help identify which patients need the speed of a helicopter transfer and which could be transferred by ambulance or remain at the initial facility. The team aims to create a computer-generated checklist, using patient data such as age, pre-existing illness and key vital signs, to help categorize patients by their specific risk of mortality.

The National Institutes of Health granted $500,000 in support of the ongoing study.

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