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In-flight well-being - Reflections on the 2018 Aviation Health Conference

In the spring of 2018, Qantas began flying its new non-stop route between Perth, Australia and London. This route covers just under 10,000 miles and passengers spend around 17 hours on-board. As the aviation industry now transports 4 billion people around the globe annually and with a global ageing population, health on-board has never been so important.

So…have you ever wondered which key issues the aviation industry is tackling in relation to the health of passengers and crew? The next couple of hundred words will provide an insight into some of the topics being addressed in 2018, including in-flight medical incident response, and cabin crew first aid training.

‘Aviation Health’ takes place annually in London, hosted by David Powell, Medical Advisor at the International Air Transport Association IATA. This event brings together the best clinicians and experts in the world who have an interest in, or responsibility for, health at 30,000 feet. The collective expertise at the conference was a clear indication of the significant effort the industry makes to both promote and support the health and wellbeing of passengers or crew. This year’s event saw attendances from airlines including Air Canada, JetBlue, Cathay Pacific, KLM, and Qatar Airways to name a few. In addition, there were ground-based medical providers exhibiting, including MedAire (a leading provider of remote medical services for aviation and maritime), Helix International Group and the UK’s specialist aviation regulator - the Civil Aviation Authority.

A key presentation kicking off day one was from Dr Eileen McNeely from Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, Boston, who spoke about the Flight Attendant Health Study, using biometric data to monitor physiology. Dr McNeely covered the possible occupational exposures of flight crew, circadian rhythm disruption, hypoxia and cosmic ionising radiation. She also discussed the physiological impact on healthy older flyers or those with underlying cardiac disease.

Among the key presenters included Rui Pombal from TAP Air Portugal who spoke about a case study, evaluating the challenges in cabin crew first aid training. His study highlighted that the majority of crew are trained in first aid through ‘hands-on’ style practice, followed by classroom style teaching and scenario-based discussions. One of Rui’s take-home messages was that cabin crew are not healthcare professionals, therefore, focus should be on basic skills rather than complex healthcare, professional protocols or memorisation. Rui also highlighted a change in training methodology with facilitating tools being a factor in strengthening the industry’s approach to first aid training. Keeping training relevant using real-life scenarios and a mix of training strategies is crucial.

As well as topics such as allergic reactions onboard, presented by Nigel Dowdall at the Civil Aviation Authority, ground-based medical providers also presented – including a thought provoking presentation from Paulo Alves, Global Director for Aviation Health at MedAire. He described the nature of the crew themselves experiencing in-flight medical illness, and the best approach for addressing it from a safety standpoint. This presentation highlighted that although in-flight medical emergencies amongst crew are very infrequent, of those that do occur gastrointestinal and musculoskeletal symptoms are more commonly reported.

Of course, the two days would not have been complete without the opportunity to demo our ‘intelligent’ first aid kit and discuss with the industry the quality of technology we have in place to support cabin crew and improve the quality of in-flight, real-time medical incident data. This was MIME Technologies’ first year exhibiting at the event. Over the two days the team were busy with product demo’s taking place in both the morning and afternoon breaks.

We left our two days in Kensington having gained new contacts and strengthened existing relationships within the industry. Overall, a successful few days contributing our own expertise to aviation health and we look forward to meeting our industry leaders again next year!


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