Is Flight Medical Emergency Phenomena worth SMS data capture?

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Article:Volunteer Docs Worry About Death Danger on Planes


This ABC report begins with the experience of a doctor, Dr. Celine Gounder, who was called to help in five on board medical emergencies. Her conclusion was, that based on those episodes, the First Aid kits were inadequate.

The same ABC report also cited two more authoritative sources, a 2013 New England Journal of Medicine examination of 11,920 cases, a statistical base derived from a physician-directed medical communications center over 34 months. The most common problems were syncope or presyncope (37.4% of cases) [a variety of fainting incidents], respiratory symptoms (12.1%), and nausea or vomiting (9.5%). About half of these on board emergencies were addressed by doctors who were also passengers. The NEJM concluded as follows:

“Most in-flight medical emergencies were related to syncope, respiratory symptoms, or gastrointestinal symptoms, and a physician was frequently the responding medical volunteer. Few in-flight medical emergencies resulted in diversion of aircraft or death; one fourth of passengers who had an in-flight medical emergency underwent additional evaluation in a hospital.”

The co-author of the article gave his opinion of the need to upgrade the medical equipment on the airplane:

“Most medical emergencies are relatively minor and handled with the kit and do not require diversion of the plane…The most common emergency is someone is light-headed — known as syncope. With simple hydration and lying down, they improve rapidly.”

Neither supports Dr. Gounder’s conclusion. The ABC headline and the reporter’s own research are not congruent.

Airline SMS system might readily be revised to capture additional data to confirm these findings. Another TV report suggested the magnitude of inflight medical emergencies was greater than believed and in response to that it was suggested that a systematic capture of numbers through SMS might be worthwhile .

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