Sharing Solutions for Safer Medical Transfer

Wingaway Medical Logistics

The NSW-based fleet offers its clients a full point-to-destination service – or bed-to-bed service, as Mr Hendry affectionately calls it – through which the patient is transported from the hospital bed or care facility and safely to their destination.

“Through the skills and assets that we have developed, we are able to provide that service now as opposed to a customer having to wait several days or having to transfer long distances over country roads. We are an integral part of the country side.”

The key to this service is the company’s unique network of air and ground vehicles, supported by its experienced flight operations team. The fleet – which is amongst the largest of its kind operating all across NSW – comprises ten fixed-wing aircraft and fifteen patient transfer ground vehicles. The air fleet consists of pressurised Piper Mojaves and Cessna 340s, and Piper Chieftains. All of Wingaway’s medical procedures are overseen by its own in-house medical consultant, Dr V J Affleck (BSc MB BS DAvMed DOHS AFAsMA), “who has considerable experience in aviation medicine and is highly respected in this field,” explains Mr Hendry.

The company has built a similarly strong reputation for itself within the field, having adopted a medical transfer specialisation early on at the urging a doctor who reported the need for rapid medical transfer services. By seizing this gap opportunity within the market, Wingaway set the course for its rise to success in the competitive aviation industry.

“Other air fleets who are generally in the general charter business are now looking for new opportunities and they believe air medical is an easy option,” explains Mr Hendry. “So what we’re seeing are operators who aren’t approaching things with the right training and staff and equipment, but nonetheless are coming into the industry. Our airplanes are all dedicated to aero-medical. So we’re trying to set a standard that everyone else should aspire to.”

With its dedicated team of highly trained aviation and medical professionals, Wingaway is certainly more than capable of setting such an example. In order to meet the sometimes unusual needs required by this sensitive industry, the company employs and trains a team of full-time, experienced pilots who liaise with Wingaway’s team of carefully selected and trained in-flight Registered Nurses.

“All of these pilots, they’ve got it right from the very top that safety is our number one concern,” assures Mr Hendry. “They will never be made to do anything that they don’t believe is safe.

In such an industry, the comfort of employees is key. “My style is very much about inclusion and involvement of the staff,” Mr Hendry explains. “I’m trying to build a culture here that we’re a small company, we’re one big happy family, and that the staff are empowered to make decisions to the benefit of our customers and of our patients… Our operations staff are very skilled and have been doing this for many years so have great relationships with our customers. Without that we simply couldn’t do what we do.”

Furthermore, the company employs a team of fourteen full-time engineers, who ensure that equipment checks are made before and after every transfer and that all equipment is regularly maintained. “We don’t cut corners on maintenance; safety is our number one priority. We have in the past turned down work if we felt that – for example – the weather conditions were too bad for us to fly. We do a risk assessment of each transfer to ensure it is within our capability to deliver safely.

Mr Hendry is proud to assert that Wingaway has developed “very good relationships with all of the local suppliers, especially in rural and country areas. There are fewer suppliers in a small country town… We work very closely with them. It’s a network and also we’ve been in this industry for a long time and we understand the culture of the country, which is very different than the culture of the city.”

Specifically, “The assets of the ambulance service are stretched as it is; if you then take that into a country environment it is stretched even more. So [we look to find out] what can we do to help our long established customers to improve the service that we can provide.” In doing so, Mr Hendry says he aims to offer Wingaway’s clients a better service and price, whilst also securing the company a better return on investment.

At present, Wingaway is introducing new procedures in order to measure its daily operations to identify areas in need of improvement as well as to establish who is actually accountable for the required improvement. For example, inefficiencies have been noted where clients arrange to collect patients after air transport but then experience their own delays. An easy and mutually beneficial solution to these inefficiencies would be for Wingaway to suggest a complete and coordinated air and land transfer solution, thereby eliminating the need for the client to coordinate its own transportation resources for this effort. “Overall,” says Mr Hendry, “it provides a much better service to the end user customer because they get there quicker.

“It’s crucial we share these solutions with customers,” he continues. “One of the major delays we have is the handing over of patients – the signing off of the patient in a receiving hospital where we have to stand in line with half a dozen other service providers who are dropping off patients because the health system is really quite stressed. If we can work with a hospital to set these rules, we can flow that back through our operations.

“I think that something that probably has not been done in the past is measuring that and working closely with the client to see how we can find the corrective solution. Certainly, it is not about using it as a tool to apportion blame, because it’s not about that. The people in the hospitals work exceptionally hard; I don’t envy them that job at all.”

As part of this effort, Wingaway has just recently implemented a variety of new technologies to improve upon its own inefficiencies. For flights, the company is using new scheduling software, which sends instant messages out to clients advising them when a flight is scheduled to take off and land, and which enables clients to monitor the flight progress throughout. All of Wingaway’s ground vehicles have been fitted with a back-to-base GPS navigation and tracking system, which allows for a smoother coordination between ground and air crews.

The secondary benefit of this technology – especially in a busy metropolis such as Sydney – is that it can aid drivers in avoiding traffic congestion, which increases the company’s efficiency while also speeding up the transfer time for end users. Explains Mr Hendry, “We hope to improve the experience for the patient as well; there is nothing worse than waiting in traffic for two hours. We’re already seeing benefits from that.”

Mr Hendry sees technology as “the future of our business and how we can make things easier – how we can make them more open and transparent for our customers, make them more open and interactive for our customers so they can actually feel part of our team.”

In terms of the future, he says that Wingaway is considering the implementation of a long term fleet replacement program. Through this program, he envisions a smoother integration process of new equipment for both its ground and air fleet.

“Wingaway is a well-regarded brand within the aero-medical community, because we have been around for a long time. And the way that we select our staff, the way that our staff are trained, and the way we empower our staff are all how we create a culture that is very hard for our competition to match.

“These are critical things in the industry. The medical staff at hospitals do their very best to treat patients and get them well enough to travel, and they want to be assured that the patients are going to arrive as safe as possible. We do that for them.”

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October 20, 2018, 10:31 AM AEDT

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