Several organizations currently work in the field of aviation medicine, including AsMA, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Many members of these organizations have advocated in recent years for a registry of in-flight medical emergencies to assist with research, training, and quality improvement.
Explore This IssueACEP News: Vol 29 – No 08 – August 2010
Dr. Claude Thibeault, medical adviser for the IATA and member of the Air Transport Medicine committee of the AsMA, said, “If we had a good repository of data, that would help when we stock the medical kits. [The kits] are based on opinions, not data.”
No matter how well stocked the kits are, in-flight medical emergencies are inevitable given the size of the commercial airline industry. According to Dr. Thibeault, “People don’t realize that an aircraft is a taxi; it is not meant to transport sick people. But because it transports so many people, it is bound to transport a sick person once in while.”
He also said an equal measure of the debate on this issue should focus on prevention, and “emphasis should be placed on the physician’s responsibility to tell patients whether or not they should travel.”
For now, emergency physicians who are frequent fliers can familiarize themselves with in-flight medical resources. And when it comes to responding to a medical emergency during commercial air travel, expect the unexpected.
Dr. Chandra is a faculty member and a practicing emergency physician at New York Hospital Queens. Dr. Conry is a first-year emergency medicine resident at New York Hospital Queens.
In-Flight Advice For Volunteer Docs
- Introduce yourself to the cabin crew and state your qualifications.
- Ask the patient for his or her permission before performing a thorough history and physical exam.
- Use an interpreter if necessary.
- If the patient’s condition is critical, request diversion to the nearest appropriate airport.
- Cooperate with a medical response center and coordinate with airport medical staff.
- Keep a written medical record of your patient encounter.
- Perform only treatments you are qualified to administer.
Source: N. Engl. J. Med. 2002;346:1067-73