“Is there a doctor on board?”Having spent the first half of my career in and around the travel industry, including a three-year stint working as an advertising manager for an airline, near the top of The Worry List was the communications fallout of a Bad Outcome in-flight medical incident. When my brother took a flight to somewhere, it was also his concern–while he was familiar with emergency medicine, it was generally of the psychiatric variety. Doctors, at least in the US, are covered by ‘Good Samaritan’ laws that shield them from most liability, but most will be up in the air if an emergency presents itself.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) (YouTube), in-flight medical emergencies occur in about 1 in every 604 flights, which in 2013 equaled annually 44,000 in-flight emergencies with nearly 50 a day in the USA (USA Today). While cabin crews receive training, they usually don’t have specialized medical training unless they moonlight as (or were formerly) EMTs. And an airplane cabin and a flight are deceptively difficult environments–pressurized, dry, confining and with help not exactly nearby.
Now there is an app for that. AirRx was developed by a six-person team (with CSE Software) led by a physician at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria, Raymond E. Bertino, MD, a clinical professor of radiology and surgery as well as a practicing radiologist. He had the ill luck to find himself in three in-flight situations plus one where he was a patient. The app, which also works in airplane mode and without live internet, guides doctors through 23 common situations, from chest pain and seizures to emergency delivery. It is available in the Apple Store and via Google Play for $4.99, with any proceeds going to the non-profit they organized to maintain the app. According to Dr Bertino, “The only person who doesn’t know what they’re supposed to do is the doc who’s volunteering. Docs aren’t taught about this in medical school and AirRx is meant to fill the gaps.” Mobihealthnews, mHealthIntelligence, Chicago Tribune.