Many people are wondering during the COVID-19 lockdown if medical air evacuations are happening and would they be evacuated without delays in the event of an emergency. Regardless of the lockdown, air evacuation is a complex issue.
My name is Sean Stein and I am an independent healthcare consultant. This article came about from a recent chat with a new client in Victoria Falls, who asked …
“If I want to be evacuated, will they do it without any delay?”
Well the answer to the question is not quite so simple. Here’s why …
A) Medical air evacuation aircraft can only operate from airports that their insurance allows them to operate from. There are only three airports where air ambulances operate from in Zimbabwe, these being Harare, Bulawayo & Victoria Falls. Kariba was one of the airports but apparently no longer.
B) Not all medical conditions are eligible for medical air evacuation. Generally speaking, there are 3 criteria that need to be met before a health insurer will consider paying for an evacuation.
- Obviously, the condition must be covered.
- Adequate treatment is not available locally.
- The condition must be life threatening. (Some insurers include “and/or limb threatening”.)
But that still does not mean you are guaranteed a medical air evacuation …
- The aircraft must be available.
- The airport must be open.
- You must be stable enough to fly which means the treating doctor and the operators of the air ambulance must both agree you are medically stable enough to fly.
Here’s a brief story that may illustrate my point.
I know of someone who had a motorcycle accident and damaged his leg quite badly. It soon became evident by the treating doctors that he required evacuation to South Africa due to the local facilities being sub-standard.
Unfortunately, he lost his leg because there was a huge delay between him being advised that he required to be evacuated to South Africa and him actually being evacuated. After the ordeal, he blamed his health insurance company for the delay and attempted to sue the health insurer.
However, subsequent investigations showed that the delay was due to the doctor not signing his release form because he was not stable enough to fly. Furthermore, the airport had been shut down due to it being late at night and therefore not in operation. Lastly, the closest available aircraft was in Johannesburg and, although given clearance by the insurer to collect the patient, they would not take-off from Johannesburg until the doctor had signed the release form and the airport was operational.
Remember, although your insurer will help co-ordinate the medical air evacuation and pay the costs, they are not responsible for doing the actual evacuation.
I trust the above helps explain how emergency medical air evacuation works.
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Sean Steyn is an independent healthcare consultant with more than 19 years’ experience with local and international health insurance products. Being directly affected in 2001 when he lost a family member to cancer which was not covered in full, he made a moral decision to change his career and dedicate his time to help other people avoid the many pitfalls of finding and owning medical cover. He publishes a complete “Guide To Medical Cover” which you can download from www.medicalcover.co.zw