Removing the Barrier of Altitude from Airborne Medical Emergencies
Recently, our team has spent time researching the frequency of medical emergencies in the aviation industry, which traditionally is a topic that goes under-reported. As MIME Technologies’ mission is to support first responders in places where ambulances just can’t go, we are acutely aware of the continuous pressure on the management of in-flight medical events across the world.
It is unsurprising to hear that demand on air travel is rising. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) confirmed a total of 3.8 billion passengers now travel annually by aeroplane, and this number is expected to more than double to 7.8 billion by 2036. Air travel is now ubiquitous - it seems that the entire world has never been so close!
Low cost airlines have also contributed to this increase; budget fares allow air travel to be accessible by the masses. With 81 million passengers flying on Easyjet alone in 2017, before we even include other popular carriers such as Ryanair, and Norwegian, it becomes easy to see how we are hitting such record passenger growth.
Along with soaring passenger numbers, inevitably, is the increase of in-flight medical emergencies. Several factors contribute to this, including our ageing population and the rise in passengers living with multiple chronic conditions. When we think of a medical emergency in the skies, granted, we usually think cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest results in approximately 1,000 deaths annually on-board International Airlines Transport Association (IATA) carriers. This number makes us think about the population the size of a small village. However, in relation to the sheer scale of passenger travel, heart attacks are in fact not the most common medical emergency. As a matter of fact, there is a long list of a medical incidents occurring onboard - including syncope (fainting), respiratory or gastrointestinal problems. Some of these can be exacerbated by the lower-pressure cabin environment; a physiological ‘compromise’ tolerated by the vast majority, but not by all.
The problem with managing in-flight medical emergencies is that diverting an aircraft is a very expensive business and a highly-pressurised situation for both cabin crew and flight crew. Long-haul aircraft are more likely to be subscribed to medical support ground cover. Not only may there be state-of-the-art, expensive, hardwired medical equipment on board, but the flight will most likely have a high-bandwidth connection to the outside world. On shorter distance aircraft and budget airlines, however, resources (and physical space) are more limited. The notable exceptions to this are the likes of Easyjet, who have taken the additional step of installing automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) on-board all their aircraft. Nevertheless, cabin crew need as much training – and support – as possible to help make time-pressured decisions while ‘in the cruise’ at 35,000 feet. It is potentially even trickier during ‘busy’ phases such as take-off and preparing for landing, when ‘cockpit resource management’ is incredibly important. Cabin crew have the responsibility to communicate information accurately and succinctly to the Captain on the flight deck. They also need to record the details of the incident accurately, for medicolegal reasons, and to support clinical audit, maintaining an environment of constant improvement. With the continual advancement of digital technologies, suddenly, the traditional method of using pen and paper to record on-board incidents feels incompatible.
So, where do we go from here to ensure consistency of how emergencies are managed in the ever-busy airspace of planet earth? When a medical emergency occurs at 500 mph it is crucial to keep crew up to speed, both with first aid skills training and new technologies that will support them. This is where MIME Technologies see cost-effective software solutions like MIME Pro playing a crucial role, supporting first aid in the skies.