What is Emergency Medical Transportation?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2019
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Emergency medical transportation can refer to any type of transport (plane, helicopter, ambulance) that can get people to a medical center in a hurry. It is distinct from non-emergency medical transportation. Non-urgent types may transport people to hospitals, home, or over distances. They are usually owned by private companies, which can be true of some emergency medical transportation, too.

There a couple of ways that emergency medical transportation can operate. Local governments often own these transport companies and they work solely for the community they serve. Sometimes private companies contract with the state too, but usually only for ambulance service. Most helicopters are owned by one of the state’s emergency departments.

Given the fact that ambulances and helicopters are showing up in emergencies, they must be staffed by emergency medical technicians (EMTs) who are trained to give all kinds of care to stabilize a patient until that patient arrives at a hospital. People who have ambulances may have noted lots of equipment like defibrillators, bandages, intravenous line bags and all kinds of monitors, which can help EMTs perform their work. EMT training has various levels, and certain types of transport may mean more highly trained EMT workers must be involved so the best care can be given.


Usually, when someone calls emergency services to get an ambulance, the first responders to the scene are not emergency medical transportation workers. First responders are usually the fire department, followed by an ambulance. Generally when the fire department arrives first, the ambulance is not far behind, and fire personal are also able to perform some basic emergency procedures until the ambulance arrives. One exception to this might occur in remote areas. If people are stranded somewhere with no fire department nearby, the first thing to arrive could be an emergency medical transportation helicopter.

Most times when people have a true emergency, an insurance company provides some or all of the coverage for emergency medical transportation. This may change if people want transport to a distance. For instance, someone might decide they don’t want the care at a local hospital, and would like to travel several hundred or several thousand miles to get care elsewhere. In this case, if their situation is still urgent or an emergency, they might seek transportation with a medical airline.

Typically, those who want emergency service must pay out of their own pockets and the price can be steep. It usually involves chartering a plane. Such services tend to be unhelpful when a person needs medical care immediately (perhaps the definition of emergency) because even with quick transport, it still takes time to arrive at another hospital. People may not always have the luxury of waiting for a plane ride if they have very severe injuries or illness.


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