High-tech intensive care ambulance service leaves nothing to chance

Custom-designed intensive care units a lifeline for seriously compromised patients

Monday, October 5 2015

Critically ill patients often need to be urgently transferred between hospitals so that they can receive highly specialised, often lifesaving care at the most appropriate facility. Such patients are often so compromised that they require an intensive care environment while en route between hospitals to ensure that they remain stable and safe throughout their transfer.

“A few years ago, Netcare 911 identified a critical need for a dedicated intensive care ambulance service,” says Shalen Ramduth, head of national road operations at Netcare 911. “This service has proved to be an invaluable resource to patients and healthcare providers alike. The ambulances essentially provide patients in need with an intensive care environment, and have since their introduction safely delivered hundreds of patients from one hospital to another.”

“Netcare 911 intensive care ambulances are highly specialised units which are specifically designed and equipped to seamlessly transfer critically ill or injured patients between medical facilities. They are staffed by advanced life support paramedics who undergo special ICU training that is measured against the strictest quality standards. These crews ensure that sick and highly vulnerable individuals are in the best possible hands during transfer.”

Ramduth explains that critically ill patients may need to be transferred to other medical facilities for a myriad of different reasons. Hospitals tend to have certain areas of specialisation and some may be better placed than others to deal with complex heart problems, stroke, trauma, diabetes, or seizure cases or near-drownings in children, for example.

“Patients are sometimes initially taken to the closest appropriate emergency facility to be stabilised. Doctors may then decide that the patient requires some form of highly specialised ongoing treatment that another hospital is better placed to provide,” he explains. “That is where the Netcare 911 ICU service comes in, providing advanced life support therapies en route to the receiving hospital.”

According to Ramduth, the intensive care ambulances are dedicated to patient transfer, ensuring that they are available exclusively for these types of missions at all times.

“A hospital or doctor will put in a special transfer request for a patient. The Netcare 911 critical care operations desk assesses the best care options in cooperation with doctors from both the transferring and receiving hospitals, and the patient’s transfer is carefully coordinated between the two facilities.”

“Nothing is left to chance,” he adds. “The Netcare 911 intensive care ambulances are fitted with sophisticated navigation and communication equipment and the best routes are plotted prior to the transfer. The Netcare 911 base uses tracking technology to follow the progress of the ambulance using GPS technology. Any possible problems or challenges en route can be reported by the crew so that these can be responded to in a timeous and appropriate manner.”

Jaco du Preez, Netcare 911’s regional operations manager, northeast region, says that the Netcare 911 ICU ambulances utilise the latest in medical technology.

“They carry highly specialised equipment including adult and paediatric ventilators, infusion pumps, multi parameter vital signs monitoring equipment, incubators, blood gas machines and a 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG), which records the electrical activity of the heart. These ECG recordings can be transmitted to doctors at the receiving hospital while the ambulance is underway,” he explains.

It is also equipped with a balloon pump, which is specialised equipment used for circulatory support is carried for example. Corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) can be provided to patients who require both heart and respiratory support.

“We are able to transfer patients of all ages, from neonates and paediatric patients through to the elderly The vehicles are routinely decontaminated through a rigorous infection prevention programme to maintain the ICU type environment,” he adds.

The ambulance used by the Netcare 911 mobile intensive care units is a Volkswagen Crafter, which is purpose-built. It has a large cabin area, which gives EMS personnel plenty of space in which to care for their patients efficiently and ensures maximum patient comfort. The VW Crafter also offers excellent stability, occupant safety, reliability and performance.

Du Preez tells of a recent case where a 36-year-old male traffic accident victim, who had sustained multiple injuries, was taken by ambulance to the emergency department of a hospital in Johannesburg, where he was stabilised. It was decided that he should be transferred to the accredited level one trauma centre at Netcare Milpark Hospital, where his injuries could be better assessed and treated.

“The patient was stable but his injuries were of such a nature and severity that he would require high level medical care en route to Netcare Milpark Hospital. A request was made by the hospital for the Netcare 911 intensive care ambulance to transfer the patient, which was arranged, in cooperation with physicians and medical staff from both hospitals.”

“Thanks to the high level care provided, the patient remained stable throughout. He was treated for his injuries at Netcare Milpark Hospital and was discharged four weeks later after having fully recovered,” observes Du Preez.

“Nothing is more important to Netcare 911 than our patients and ensuring that they are provided with quality and safe care,” notes Ramduth. “As South Africa’s leading emergency medical services provider and with a longstanding reputation for efficiency and patient safety, Netcare 911 is always seeking to provide services that can serve members of the community when they are at their most vulnerable,” he concludes.


Issued by:    Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare 911
Contact    :    Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney and Meggan Saville
Telephone:    (011) 469 3016
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