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Are physicians required during HEMS winch rescue missions?


A winch-capable helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) offers several advantages over standard rescue operations. Little is known about the benefit of physician winching in addition to a highly trained paramedic. We analysed the mission profiles and interventions performed during rescues involving the winching of a physician in the Greater Sydney Area HEMS (GSA-HEMS).


All winch missions involving a physician from August 2009 to January 2012 were identified from the prospectively completed GSA-HEMS electronic database. A structured case-sheet review for a predetermined list of demographic data and physician-only interventions (POI) was conducted.


We identified 130 missions involving the winching of a physician, of which 120 case sheets were available for analysis. The majority of patients were traumatically injured (90%) and male (85%) with a median age of 37 years. Seven patients were pronounced life extinct on the scene. A total of 63 POI were performed on 48 patients. Administration of advanced analgesia was the most common POI making up 68.3% of interventions. Patients with abnormal RTSc2 scores were more likely to receive a POI when compared with those with normal RTSc2 (P = 0.03). The performance of POI had no effect on median scene times (45 vs. 43 minutes; P = 0.51). See Tables 1 and 2.


Our high POI rate of 40% coupled with long rescue times and the occasional severe injuries supports the argument for winching doctors. Not doing so would deny a significant proportion of patients time-critical interventions, advanced analgesia and procedural sedation.

Table 1 Demographic data, timings and Coded Revised Trauma Score (RTSc2)
Table 2 Interventions performed

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Correspondence to PB Sherren.

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Sherren, P., Hayes-Bradley, C., Reid, C. et al. Are physicians required during HEMS winch rescue missions?. Crit Care 17, P282 (2013).

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  • Significant Proportion
  • Severe Injury
  • Electronic Database
  • Rescue Time
  • Helicopter Emergency Medical Service