This article is a follow-up on a story we blogged about on Air Ambulance Weekly back in September 2011.
That month, a stroke patient in South Carolina received a bill for $58,477 for an air ambulance transport in a widely-talked about story that made national headlines.
After arriving at the nearest medical center by ambulance, a specialist spoke to the patient over a video link explaining that he should get to a stroke specialist in Charlotte as quickly as possible – or he could potentially develop a “brain bleed” and die.
Furthermore, the hospital called upon a helicopter company from Conway – essentially on the other side of the state – to transport the man, when there were other air ambulance companies much closer.
A spokesman at the Conway Medical Center even pointed out that a Med Center Air helicopter was ready and waiting in Concord – only 20 minutes from the patient – at the time of the transport.
Even worse, the helicopter coming from Conway had to refuel and then fly almost 200 miles south to Charleston, despite the fact that there was a stroke center in Charlotte, 25 miles away.
The time and cost involved in the longer transport could, potentially, have cost the patient much more than $58,000.
While the patient thankfully survived as a result of the treatment he received, receiving a bill for over $58,000 in the mailbox after the whole ordeal added a great deal of insult to the injury that came about as a result of decisions that were made in the arrangement of his transport.
The patient, Mr. Pridmore, and his wife were locked in a war with the air ambulance’s successor company over the bill for several months during an already incredibly stressful time in their lives.
Fortunately, as of August 2012, there’s now a positive side to this story.
Today, Mr. Pridmore is recovering well from his stroke and, according to WCNC-TV, now is able to walk without the aid of a cane.
The air ambulance service ultimately lowered the bill from $58K to $32K.
The insurance company, who had previously declared their policyholder’s air medical transport “not medically necessary,” finally agreed to pay the lowered cost of the flight.
While this news has to certainly be a relief for Mr. Pridmore, it does raise questions about the air ambulance and health industry in general.
I’ll add here that the “change of heart” by both parties only came after lots of attention was given to Mr. Pridmore’s story by mass media.
Why did the hospital in the story get an air ambulance from much further away to transport the patient to a far-away medical center if time was, at all, of the essence?
Emergency dispatchers will make an effort to call in the closest air ambulance that is available, or that can at least get to the patient’s location in the least time. However, it is well known that individual hospitals choose the air ambulance company themselves when they transfer patients from one medical facility to another.
It can be assumed that after the patient’s experience in this story, he probably has some things he’d like to see changed in the healthcare industry. Should greater scrutiny should be given to the relationships between hospitals and air ambulance companies? Let us know what you think.