Mobile App – and practice -- improve doctor performance during in-flight emergencies

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With increasing air travel, in-flight medical emergencies are on the rise and physicians on commercial airline flights are routinely asked to volunteer assistance. Yet most health care professionals lack sufficient knowledge about in-flight emergency stabilization, resources available and protocols.  A study by Jump Simulation, part of OSF Innovation and a collaboration with the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria (UICOMP) presented at the annual meeting of The Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) showed that physician performance and confidence improved during practice simulations of in-flight medical emergencies, especially when coupled with use of a smartphone app.

The study used airRx, a mobile app developed to help physicians and other medical personnel volunteering during in-flight medical events. In the study, cases based on commonly occurring in-flight medical emergencies were portrayed in a mockup of the airline cabin setting. Actors portrayed patients, family members, seat neighbors and flight attendants. Resident physicians in non-emergency specialties were asked to assist as if they were volunteering in actual medical emergencies.

The physicians were randomized into two groups, one that was provided with the airRx app and one that was not given the app. They were rated on their performance by trained observers using a Critical Action Checklist and on timing for key critical action – and they were asked to report their confidence before and after the simulations.

Physicians using the airRx app achieved higher scores on the Critical Action Checklist and on critical action timing for contacting ground support. Physician confidence in managing in-flight medical emergencies increased in both those using the airRx app and those without the app, but increased more in the airRx group.

The airRx app – available for download at no cost – lets healthcare professionals access 23 scenarios of the most common medical emergencies, with concise treatment algorithms and reference information to help evaluate and treat the patient. After being downloaded, airRx does not require onboard Wi-Fi or internet connection.

“Few resources are available to familiarize physicians with what they may encounter as in-flight volunteers, which often includes medical events and conditions outside of their own medical specialties,” commented Dr. Raymond E. Bertino, airRx lead developer and Clinical Professor of Radiology and Surgery at UICOMP. “AirRx provides a real-time checklist and quick reference handbook to improve the way that emergent medical situations in the air are addressed.”


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