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Air ambulance concept fast catching up in India

February 11, 2006 03:37 IST

Air ambulance -- airlifting patients or doctors in emergency cases -- is a concept fast catching up in the country. 

Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, the new avatar of Dr Mandke Heart Hospital in Mumbai, is the latest to have this facility. 

The hospital, scheduled to be commissioned by early 2007, is planning to introduce the service in collaboration with a leading aviation company. The multi-speciality hospital will have a helipad on its terrace to ferry patients in the case of emergency. 

Escort Hospitals in New Delhi recently renovated its facility with a helipad on its rooftop and became the first hospital in the country to offer this service to its high-profile patients. 

It now plans to tie up with Deccan Aviation, a subsidiary of low-cost carrier Air Deccan, to fly air ambulance as an integral part of the package of services which patients can avail of. 

Manipal Hospital in Bangalore, too, is readying to launch this service in association with an airline company. 

In Mumbai, a couple of other hospitals, including the proposed multi-speciality hospitals of the Apollo group, are planning helipads at their complexes. 

Medical evacuation by air is not a new concept in the US or the UK. However, the focus there is on transporting medical experts and surgeons from one hospital to another to attend emergency cases or even routinely scheduled surgeries. This helps the hospitals share the time of visiting specialists. 

With the concept coming into vogue here, constructing a hospital structure with a basic plan of a helipad on the terrace in compliance with the air safety norms is turning out to be an essential part of new projects. 

Medical evacuation in the twin-engine air ambulance costs between Rs 65,000 and Rs 70,000 an hour. 

"We had originally planned a helipad on the terrace of the hospital. The air ambulance service would become functional along with the commissioning of the hospital," said Dr Alka Mandke, director, KDAH. 

Deccan Aviation Director Capt Jayant Poovaiah said the company had tied up with hospitals such as Escorts in New Delhi and Manipal in Bangalore. 

"We are in the process of joining hands with a leading hospital in Mumbai," Capt Poovaiah said. 

Deccan Aviation does not have specialised air ambulances. It plans to reconfigure helicopters according to the requirement of the medical evacuation. Seats are being relocated to accommodate patients. 

Deccan Aviation is a leading player in medical evacuation with 10 helicopters and two aeroplanes. Other players in the business include Million Air, India International and Span Air with two helicopters each. 

A regular air ambulance service attached with multi-speciality hospitals in the metros would also help boost medical tourism. 

Currently, very few new hospital projects like the Rs 400-crore BMC-Sun Hills Hospital in Mumbai are being planned in the vicinity of airports, offering easy access for medical tourists. 

Once air ambulance service becomes part of a hospital's package, heavy traffic will not be a deterrent factor for the patients to visit hospital in emergencies.

C H Unnikrishnan & P R Sanjai in Mumbai