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Picture the following scenario: The company jet is cruising at FL450 high above a distant continent headed to a home base thousands of miles away when a passenger alerts the flight crew that a colleague has started complaining of chest pains- has passed out – and now can’t be roused. While other occupants continue to monitor the stricken passenger- the crew initiates a call.

Dave Higdon   |   1st August 2005
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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MedAire serves those suffering medical emergencies in-flight.

Picture the following scenario: The company jet is cruising at FL450 high above a distant continent headed to a home base thousands of miles away when a passenger alerts the flight crew that a colleague has started complaining of chest pains- has passed out – and now can’t be roused. While other occupants continue to monitor the stricken passenger- the crew initiates a call. Even though an ambulance hustling Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) to their location is impossible- they know that a qualified professional is still just a call away thanks to MedAire and its MedLink emergency service. Using the aircraft’s in-flight phone or Internet backbone- a flight-crew member makes the connection to MedAire’s Global Response Center and help comes on the line immediately. A team of communication specialists and board-certified ER physicians manage calls at the center 24 hours a day- 7 days a week- 52 weeks a year.

The crewmember attending the stricken passenger also opens an on-board medical-emergency kit and goes to work gathering data requested by that emergency-room physician – located in far-away Phoenix- Arizona.

Employing tools and materials in the on-board medical kit- the crewmember answers a number of questions from the ER doctor - and in turn- the doctor develops a preliminary diagnosis and suggests interim treatment that should stabilize the patient until the aircraft meets an ambulance upon landing. This may be either the intended destination or perhaps a suggested closer landing site with appropriate and available medical care.

As the medical emergency unfolds in the passenger cabin- on the flight deck preparations are already underway for a possible diversion to the nearest suitable medical care- some eight miles below and many miles ahead.

In the end- the Phoenix doctor’s assessment proves accurate- the flight diverts and people two continents apart share a common reason to smile. They helped save a life through a combination of training- medical equipment and professional participation made possible by global-communications technologies.

MedAire- the world’s top provider of medical safety services to the aviation community- pioneered and developed its blend of skills- training and technologies to a fine edge. For nearly 20 years MedAire has provided training- on-board medical kits- in-flight advice and life-saving services to a growing list of business aircraft operators. By housing its MedLink Global Response Center inside the Emergency Room (ER) of Banner Samaritan Hospital- a level-one trauma center- based in Phoenix- Arizona- MedAire’s physicians get support from specialists in nearly every field of medicine. And help for the ER doctor is help for the client. Think of MedAire and MedLink as a go-anywhere Emergency Medical System.

Born on-the-fly

Today- television and news programs routinely show EMTs communicating vital diagnostic data to physicians far away- using telecommunications to transmit everything from heart- pulse and blood pressure readings to pulse oxygen saturation and electrocardiogram results. The ER specialist uses that data to diagnose the problem and formulate treatment practically as if the patient was already in the ER. Less than 20 years ago- however- not all EMTs enjoyed such tools.

So it was that the lack of such capabilities led to a decision by a flight dispatcher to call back a helicopter sent to evacuate a young boy injured in an accident. An ambulance crew already at the scene judged the boy to be stable; when his condition turned worse- dispatch turned the helicopter- carrying a nurse and better equipment- back around - but it was too late for the youngster.

That incident prompted the helicopter’s Flight Nurse- Joan Sullivan Garrett- to question why the experience and expertise of an ER doctor had to be limited to the ER. Ground and air EMTs could already talk with each other and the ER; but more and better seemed possible. Considering that many emergencies occurred outside the reach of an ambulance and its crew- a need seemed apparent.

Modern communications were already advancing rapidly; special training and communications could bring needed care to patients well before an ambulance reached the hospital – and- of course- when care starts sooner- survival chances increase. Indeed- with portable diagnostic and treatment hardware emerging- potential existed to do even more for patients- even thousands of miles from an ER and miles up in the sky.

As a result- MedAire came into being. MedAire was founded by its’ chairperson and CEO- Ms. Garrett- but initially struggled to survive- before expanding- catching on- growing and thriving. By developing special kits- training and on-site medical expertise to airlines- business aircraft operators and countless other companies around the world- Garrett and her staff helped save life after life. Nothing breeds business better than success. Air carriers began to embrace MedAire a little more quickly – but not as quickly- or as completely as the world of corporate aviation. That turn began with an emergency medical training session Garrett conducted at Gulfstream Aerospace headquarters. The folks at Gulfstream- so impressed with Garrett’s presentation- products and services- opted to make standard ‘equipment’ on new Gulfstreams MedAire’s training- an in-flight-emergency medical kit and the MedLink service.

Now- 16 years later- MedAire boasts having more than half of all heavy jet operators as clients. In the US- about 85 percent of all US-flagged airliners carry MedAire emergency kits; worldwide- 76 carriers employ MedLink.

Double-edged scalpel

On board MedLink-enrolled aircraft- MedAire can place an optional but sophisticated portable medical device capable of automatically recording a variety of vital signs: Pulse- respiration- blood pressure and heart-health information- among them. The same device transmits this data directly to MedAire’s Global Response Center in Phoenix for use by the on-duty physician; the diagnostic machine also records and transmits color video of the patient so the doctor can also see the patient. Admittedly- this device comes at a high price- though.

The device also provides a live voice link between the doctor and the in-flight crewmember tending to the stricken passenger. The process is fast and reliable when undertaken by personnel trained in the use of the equipment. Within moments of establishing contact- the doctor in Phoenix is looking at the vital signs and the patient while talking to the attending crew.

The doctor begins to diagnose the patient’s condition as quickly as the data arrives; specialists consulted at the hospital also see the data and collaborate with the MedAire crisis center doctor. In less time than it can take for an ambulance to arrive at a call- the doctor can prescribe a treatment plan and start the on-scene crew to initiate treatment.

All the while- the corporate aircraft flies toward the nearest destination with medical facilities up to the task –MedAire’s center can also provide information from its worldwide database of treatment facilities.

In most instances- an ambulance is waiting for the aircraft crew to open the cabin door upon its arrival – up to and including meeting the bird on a runway or taxiway to expedite transfer and the continuation of treatment en route to a hospital.

Service anywhere & everywhere

Commercial ships- the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command- commercial airlines- private yacht owners- celebrities- as well as corporations and corporate aircraft owners are among today’s growing clientele at MedAire… and the company continues to expand.

Within the past three years MedAire acquired a company in Australia with a network of Pacific Rim clinics modeled after western-medicine clinics. The network of Global Doctor clinics provides a direct connection between MedAire clients and care they may need when traveling the world. Last year MedAire revenues totaled $25 million with employment at around 190- but given MedAire’s past- look for those numbers to grow.

The role of technology stands to expand MedAire’s offerings. Equipment advances hold promise for medical kits with better diagnostic gear capable of detecting and transmitting even more information than the basic vital signs – up to- and including analyzing the risk of heart failure or heart attack.

Already MedAire provides clients the option to carry an in-cabin Automated External Defibrillator (AED) that can provide for the need of a heart-saving shock and deliver a precise jolt as needed. These AEDs are commonplace on the nation’s airliners and growing among the corporate fleet because of the critical nature of time for a heart attack victim. Without action to restore a normal heart rhythm a heart attack patient’s chances of recovery fall quickly in the first few moments after an event – and diminish with each passing moment.

Given MedAire’s history of struggle- survival and expansion- it will be no surprise to watch the company continue to improve on the products and services available to corporate aircraft operators and the rest of the company’s clients. It will be even less of a surprise to see the company’s success grow even further in the future. MedAire Contact Details:

Corporate HQ (US); Tel: +1 480 333 3700;

Corporate Office (Europe- Middle East- Africa);

Tel: +44 1252 517 951

More information from www.medaire.com

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