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Airline advice for in-flight emergencies

Thursday May 5th, 2011

Airlines should improve their handling of in-flight medical emergencies, according to experts.

Dr Melissa Mattison and Dr Mark Zeidel of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre, Boston, USA, warn that such emergencies occur frequently, with 10,000 cases identified by European airlines over a recent five year period.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, they state: "The kinds of approaches that have improved flight safety have not been extended to providing optimal care for passengers who become acutely ill while on board airplanes."

The experts point out that each airline has its own reporting system, protocol and medical kit, and that flight attendant medical training does not have a universal curriculum or examinations.

They call for a standardised recording system across the airline industry, with mandatory reporting and an immediate debriefing for people involved. The optimal content of the first aid kits on airplanes should also be decided, with identical elements in identical locations on every flight.

"The training of flight attendants in how to deal with medical emergencies should be enhanced and standardised," they write. "Flight attendants must absolutely understand what is in the emergency medical kit, where it is located, and how to assist medical personnel at the time of an in-flight medical emergency."

Finally, flight crews' access to ground-to-air medical support should be standardised and perhaps be made available to passengers when health care professionals are not available on board.

"The adoption of these measures by airlines and their regulators should not add a great deal of expense, but such sensible measures have the potential to improve outcomes for airline passengers who become ill," they conclude.

Mattison, M. L. P. and Zeidel, M. Navigating the Challenges of In-flight Emergencies. The Journal of the American Medical Association, published online May 6, 2011.

Tags: Europe | North America | Traveller Health | World Health

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