The Slovenia Times

Helicopter emergency medical service celebrates 20 years

Health & Medicine

Slovenia is marking 20 years since the helicopter emergency medical service was first introduced. The service began in 2003 as a pilot project and is now an indispensable tool in the search and rescue toolbox.

The unit, dubbed the HEMS Brnik, was located at Ljubljana Airport and used Slovenian Armed Forces helicopters.

In the three and a half years of the pilot project, the unit responded 540 times with an average activation time of 17 minutes and more than 50 doctors, nurses and healthcare technicians took part.

Although the unit was originally designed to provide primary transport from the site of the accident to the hospital, it also proved very useful for transport of patients from regional hospitals to the Ljubljana University Medical Centre.

After the pilot project ended in December 2006, HEMS Brnik became a regular unit. Ten years later, it was joined by another unit based out of Maribor.

The units are activated on average 450 times per year, or more than once per day.

Each team is composed of a doctor, a senior staff nurse, a pilot and a technician. In cooperation with the Mountain Rescue Association, a flight paramedic can join the team.

The team can respond even in cases where helicopter landing is not possible. Everyone on the team is trained to approach the scene with a winch or from a hovering aircraft.

The main aim of the HEMS unit is to offer high-quality emergency care to patients and provide rapid transport to hospitals.

The HEMS unit has been an important addition to the medical services at ski resorts and to the Mountain Rescue Association in cases of sudden illness or injury in the mountains.

Helicopter transport is three times faster than transport with an ambulance and is much more comfortable for the patient, according to Uroš Lampič, the head of the HEMS Brnik.

"That is why our unit is crucial in emergency responses in cases of stroke, spinal and head injuries," Lampič says. "I believe that with a fast response we have affected treatment of many patients and saved some lives."

The system will be even more effective when all emergency medical service units are included in the dispatch system. A dispatcher will be able to decide whether a helicopter should be activated instead or in addition to the ambulance.

"If we get to the patient too late, no top-level medical knowledge and equipment can help," he says.

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