Birds of a feather flock together

Bettina Vadera
Two industry professionals gave their insights on the benefits of companies in the fixed-wing air ambulance and travel insurance sectors working well together in a strong relationship. By Mandy Langfield, for ITIJ TV
Organising and carrying out a medical flight that can cross continents and oceans is a complex business, and unless all parties are on the same page, things can go wrong. Chris Carnicelli, CEO of Generali Global Assistance, believes that selecting the right air ambulance partner for an assistance company’s business is absolutely essential to a smooth repatriation. Carnicelli said: “We have clear and rigorous standards for accreditation of our [air ambulance] partners, keeping up the highest quality.” Secondly, Generali aims to build on those partnerships that have previously worked well, visiting providers around the world, making sure that there is a clear understanding of their operations and capabilities.
Building relationships between the insurance companies paying the bills and the air ambulance companies carrying out the flights are key to a smooth repatriation process, said Dr Bettina Vadera, chief executive and medical director of AMREF Flying Doctors, which is based in Kenya and carries out dozens of flights on behalf of international insurance companies each year. She said: “I think a lot of the [most effective] collaboration and working together comes from having positive experiences. We have always seen that if we have a good relationship and a long-standing relationship with an insurance company, who know our capabilities as an air ambulance provider, who know how we work, at what standards we work, that we are reliable, then it works on both sides.”
Managing expectations is essential for both the insurance company and the air ambulance operator. If one side has false expectations of the other, then that is usually when relationships fall apart, and this can happen to the detriment of patients going forward, as there will not be an opportunity for the companies to work together again.
The insurance company understanding where the air ambulance company has its bases, and how this can affect operational capability, is one area highlighted by Vadera as being very important. In Africa, for instance, the time of day at which a request for transport comes through is very relevant. With unlit bush airstrips being in common use, there are no options for landing at night. And sometimes in this situation, an insurer may not be able to give a guarantee of payment in time for an aircraft to take off, retrieve the patient and deliver them to hospital before night falls. Vadera said: “We know this, and therefore, when the job is on behalf of an insurance company with which we have worked for a long time, and with whom we have a contract, we take the risk of making that call very quickly to dispatch the aircraft and go, even though we are still going through the bureaucratic process. We can do this because we know that the insurance company will value the fact that we have responded quickly to look after their patient, the patient will be very happy and this will reflect well on the insurance company.” This was just one of the examples she gave of where both companies having confidence and trust in one another can improve the patient transfer process.
Another example of where a good relationship between an insurer and their air ambulance partner can come in useful is where a quotation for a flight is given to an insurer, and accepted, but certain circumstances change and the cost of that flight goes up or down. A transparent approach to this situation is key, said Vadera, because if the provider is honest with the payer when the cost has gone down and the insurer can save some money, when the opposite occurs, the insurer is more likely to understand what has happened, and when reasonable explanations are offered as to why the costs have risen, the insurer will pay what is necessary.
Sometimes, going above and beyond expectations can be worthwhile for an air ambulance operator. But being able to do this relies on the air ambulance provider knowing the insurer or assistance company, and the payer trusting the air ambulance firm to do what is best for the patient and take their word that the action they took was necessary and reasonable.
“In the end,” said Vadera, “the patient is the one who will benefit if the air ambulance and insurer have a good and trustful relationship.”
See Chris Carnicelli and Bettina Vadera discuss this topic in ITIJ TV News Update 31 May at