Improved Health Care On Airlines

We have all become aware of the terms, television, telephone and telecommunications. Now instantaneous interactive communication has forced medicine into a whole new realm, as airlines have begun setting up telemedicine machines on their long-haul flights.

When there is no doctor on board, the Tempus IC (telemedicne device) can be operated by the cabin staff in an emergency, to collect the passenger’s vital signs and heart rate. These are passed, along with relevant photographs and video, directly to a telemedicine call centre.

A doctor on call receives the information then formulates a more specific diagnosis. He is then able to give the pilot of the plane clearer instructions as to whether or not a diversion is necessary. The crew are then informed on the best treatment to take, for the safety, comfort and care of the passenger.

Doctors will always continue to be asked to act as the Good Samaritan in-flight, but given that a doctor who does respond, may have inadequate training and will almost certainly not have the appropriate instruments on hand. The appeal is obvious for the new equipment, that puts a sick passenger in touch with a doctor who is trained in trauma medicine and who is familiar with the physiological effects of travel at 36,000 feet and able see the patient’s vital signs.

Airlines may find it necessary to improve their communication systems in order to be able to make use of these machines, but an item such as the Tempus IC looks like becoming an absolutely essential part of any first-aid kit.

The managing director of RDT, Graham Murphy, says the Tempus IC provides three main advantages to its users: it enables airlines to avoid unnecessary diversions; it increases the quality of care the passenger receives; and it reduces the chance of litigation. The airline can also show that it did everything possible, as the machine records all the data it collects.

Flight attendants require only four hours training before they are able to use the machine. Given the frequency of medical emergencies, its ease of use permits an attendant to use it effectively for many months following training.

Richard Hill, Etihad Airways' chief operations officer, said: "It will help to ensure that a passenger can receive the appropriate treatment when the aircraft lands, whether by diversion or at the final destination."

Tempus IC is used on ships, oil rigs and wherever urgent medical assistance is needed. It is already in use by Emirates, BMI Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia airlines.

This kind of medicine was first employed by the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia in the early 1900s, when two-way radios were used. However, it was 1989 before the first interactive telemedicine system was developed.

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