During an inflight medical emergency, a crew member will ask if there are any medical professionals onboard that can volunteer. A study published in the Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance examined how knowledgeable physicians were during an in-flight medical emergency. A survey was conducted for physicians to share their knowledge and experience. A total of 42% of physicians reported they had been asked to volunteer but only a rough 13% reported to have the appropriate knowledge of the protocols for handling such medical events.

Inflight Medical Emergencies

AirRx, a point of care app created for smartphones to help medical professionals or personnel when encountering inflight medical emergencies, conducted the survey in collaboration with Jump Simulation, OSF Innovation, and the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria (UICOMP). The survey was conducted online and completed by 418 medical staff members, including primary care physicians and specialists, at three hospitals in Peoria, Illinois.

“The survey also revealed that while most physicians (73%) believed airlines are required to have medical supplies, half (54%) reported having no knowledge of the supplies available,” said Raymond E. Bertino, lead developer of airRx and Clinical Professor of Radiology and Surgery at UICOMP. “The medications and equipment required to be available vary by country and geographic area. airRx catalogs these resources so the physician can quickly understand what is available.”

Training opportunities and other resources for such medical scenarios during commercial flights are generally limited. Many physicians will encounter medical situations unrelated to their specializations. The application, AirRx, was developed to prepare healthcare professionals during in-air medical events. The app encompasses 23 of the most common medical scenerios that may occur during a commercial flight. The app specifies the roles of flight, cabin crew and medical volunteers using treatment algorithms and information to aid in the process of treating the patient. The app also offers medical legal implications for volunteering to assist, list of necessary medical equipment, medication, documentation, and feedback. The app is available for download at no cost.

“Improvement in physician knowledge about support protocols may increase physician comfort in responding to events, improve patient care and improve decision-making by the pilot regarding continuation or diversion of the flight,” explained the study’s lead author Eric Chatfield, D.O., Asante Three Rivers Medical Center, Grants Pass, Oregon. “Physicians should know, for example, that support by direct contact with ground medical staff is nearly always available except during takeoff and landing.”