Your Medical Co-Pilot

MedAire’s In-flight and On-the-Ground Assistance are a Pilot’s Best Friend

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Photo by: Icelandair contacts MedAire’s MedLink

If you’re a pilot in commercial aviation, chances are you know of the services provided by MedAire. While MedAire isn’t a household name – they have been instrumental in providing medical and safety services to the aviation industry for more than 35 years. 

Ever heard of MedLink? MedLink is MedAire’s ground-based medical advisory service used by airlines around the world to support their crew when there is a medical event on board

Do you look at those medical kits on board? There’s a good chance that they are assembled and supplied by MedAire 

Ever get sick while on duty travel? You may have spoken with one of MedAire’s medical professionals for advice and assistance

In this feature, we go behind the scenes to learn more about the company that assists thousands of pilots and crewmembers every year. 

Photo provided by MedAire.

IN THE BEGINNING

As flying became more accessible to the general population, airline traffic increased. And – as the number of people in the air grew – so too did the number of in-flight medical events. 

This posed a challenge to airlines: What should they do if one of the passengers on board is sick? What if the passenger is really sick? What if it’s a medical emergency? 

Relying on in-flight medical volunteers was risky. While there may be a medical professional on board – that person may be a dermatologist. They may not be comfortable attending to a person complaining of chest pain. 

In addition, the volunteer would not be familiar with the medical resources on board. Valuable time could be wasted as someone reviewed the medical kit content card to see what was available. 

These challenges intrigued Joan Sullivan Garrett, a flight nurse with an air ambulance company affiliated with a level-four trauma center in Phoenix, Ariz. 

CEO Joan Sullivan Garrett. Photo provided by MedAire.

She started developing an idea: What if there was a service that understood the unique complexities of commercial aviation that airlines could rely on for medical advice. 

The medical staff would need to have extensive experience in a wide variety of medical conditions, and the service would have to be available 24 hours a day, every day of the year. 

To make the idea a reality, she didn’t need to look far. She forged a partnership with the emergency room doctors at the level four trauma center. The company became MedAire, and the service took the first call for medical advice from 35,000 feet. That first call was received in 1987. Since that time, MedAire has received more than 430,000 requests for assistance from flights around the world. 

ALL IN A DAY’S WORK

There can be more than a million passengers in the air at any given time. With that many people, anything can and does happen. Recent requests for assistance to MedAire’s MedLink have included: 

• 24-year-old male passenger with profuse sweating, severe vomiting and anxiety;

• A female passenger with severe vomiting aboard a flight from the Middle East to Europe; and

• A 48-year-old male with asthma, whose inhaler was in his checked baggage, having difficulty breathing aboard a flight from Asia to the U.S.

Photo provided by MedAire.

FROM THE AIR TO THE GROUND

The ground-based assistance service was a success. MedAire’s MedLink service became the gold-standard for in-flight medical support. 

The volume of calls helped MedAire develop a database of what types of medical events occur on board, and how often – the largest database of this type of information in the world. 

This real-world data has since been used to help inform what medications should be in the onboard medical kits and what first-responder training could help cabin crew.

The data also exposed a missing link. Sometimes medical cases are significant enough to warrant a diversion of the aircraft to expedite time to care for the ailing passenger. 

A decision to divert is always the captain’s decision. However, while the airline operations team can advise on best logistical options for the aircraft; they don’t know whether there is quality, appropriate medical care facilities near that airport.  

Photo provided by MedAire

A diversion to an airport where there are no adequate or medically appropriate medical facilities doesn’t help the passenger. 

To resolve the issue, MedAire and its parent company, International SOS, began assessing the medical facilities around airports. Today, they have ready access to the quality, availability, and specialty care available near 9,000 airports worldwide. 

Now, when a captain makes the decision to divert, MedAire can advise pilots as to which option has the most appropriate medical facility to support the medical concern.  

There was one more piece to the puzzle. What about the pilots and cabin crew that fall ill or are injured during duty travel? Where do they go for medical advice and assistance when in an unfamiliar city?  

They do not have access to the care they are used to – such as their family physician. They may feel uncomfortable seeking care at unfamiliar medical facilities, or they may not know how to find appropriate care. 

To meet this need, MedAire leveraged their medical expertise and knowledge of medical facilities around the world to provide crew support services. Today, thousands of crewmembers and pilots contact MedAire for medical advice, prescription assistance, referrals to specialists, and fit-for-duty recommendations when they are away from home. 

Crew have peace of mind knowing they have access to a network of providers that are well known and appropriate for their needs, while minimizing the risk of escalated emergencies and missing shifts. 

In addition, MedAire understands that each crewmember is critical to a successful airline operation. To minimize operational disruptions, MedAire continually assesses each case and communicates crew status with the airline’s operational teams. 

EVOLVING WORLD. EVOLVING RISKS. 

The downing of Ukrainian Airlines flight and the Covid-19 outbreak started the aviation industry on edge as the new decade began.

All operators in aviation are exposed to risks, and flight crew are on the frontlines. MedAire works with clients – commercial and private – to mitigate their exposure to those risks. 

Airlines and aircraft operators need to have the right information – at the right time – to identify, assess, and understand the risks to all flights to make informed decisions. 

Photo provided by MedAire

The safety of people, aircraft and operations are absolutely inter-related. Operators should consider risks in and around airfields, threats in a country’s airspace, and information on events that could affect flight operations or crew and passenger safety.

Aviation security as it relates to crew should extend past the aircraft – pre-flight and post-flight. Airports are attractive targets for insurgents and terrorists, as are hotels – two locations where crew and aviation support staff are often located.  

For those in charter and private aviation – a whole new set of questions need to be assessed by pilots and flight departments: can aircraft safely operate in the area? Can aircraft be left unattended? Is there adequate lodging if the crew overnight outside of their home base?

MedAire provides independent, unbiased intelligence and advice to its clients. The company offers a number of services to inform, educate and advise our clients on how to mitigate security risks to their operations – pre-flight, in-flight and while at destination. This information helps clients make tactical, operational and strategic decisions.

Pre-flight, operators can request a go/ no go flight assessment when determining whether to fly to medium to extreme risk destinations. It provides an independent, objective analysis on the feasibility of safe operations and provides recommendations to mitigate exposure to identified risks. 

For overflight risks, operators can request an airspace assessment. Airspace assessments provide an overview of threats in a country’s airspace and provide advice to mitigate exposure to those threats. 

At destination, understand the security profile of the airport and travel safety considerations in the vicinity. To stay apprised of evolving events, we continuously monitor a variety of sources – including social media, news reports and first-hand accounts.

This information must then be vetted by local, trusted sources. It’s important to have a global network of trusted intelligence and security sources. They can also provide guidance on the political climate, current events, endemic risks, security threats and local infrastructure for areas of interest to the aviation community.

In 2010 we built the medical and travel security information portal that is used by client’s around the world to understand health, safety and security risks at upcoming destinations.

Photo provided by MedAire.

We continue to expand our aviation commercial service offerings with tools and technology flight departments use and integrate into their processes and systems to protect their people, their aircraft and their operations.

To help commercial and private aviation operators understand risks and the environment in and around airfields, we created Aviation Travel Security Briefs.

In response to evolving threats in and around a country’s airspace and overflight zones, we created Airspace Assessments. To ensure our clients receive the latest information that could affect their operations, we developed Aviation Alerts.

All these tools are developed by exploiting a combination of open-source data, local relationships, and our aviation and travel security experts. And, all demonstrate a culture of innovation, technology and solution development.

With the right foresight, planning and risk management processes air carriers and aircraft owners can continue to fly further, explore new markets, and attract new clients.

ON OUR RADAR

Covid-19. MedAire is working very closely with airline clients and industry partners like IATA, and in line with WHO recommendations, to help manage the COVID-19 outbreak relative to air travel.  MedAire is an IATA Strategic Partner and participates in key aviation medical associations, putting us in the unique position to help airline operators by sharing best practices around infectious diseases. We consult with airline clients to provide actionable advice on day to day operations. The objective is to have one coordinated approach to address the public health concerns, looking at pre-flight and in-flight prevention, containment and response – in addition to supporting pilots and crewmembers. 

Airline employees (aircrew and business travelers) and international sales offices and airport operations are often impacted by civil unrest. They are forced to reduce or cease operations resulting in adverse travel safety situations and negatively impact commercial and flight operations. This highlights the need for air carriers to ensure that robust travel risk management programs and contingency planning are in place to manage this type of risk. 

MedAire’s role is to provide independent, un-biased intelligence and advice. It is always the client’s discretion on how to move forward based on their individual risk threshold. 

ABOUT MEDAIRE

MedAire provides airlines with in-flight medical advice and support, at-destination crew support, aircraft medical kits, and train-the-trainer programs for in-flight medical events. Since 1985, MedAire has been a trusted provider of 24/7 in-flight medical advice and passenger fit-to-fly assessments; 24/7 security advice, information and contingency planning; crisis management services for medical needs after accidents or serious incidents, medical and security support for crew while on duty travel; medical kits and equipment; crew medical training; and pre-travel medical review of MEDIFs. 

In addition to the provision of services, MedAire is actively engaged in the Aerospace medical community. They provide their extensive insight on in-flight medical events based on their database of 430,000 cases. MedAire provides data analysis to regulators and airlines around the world, and publishes scientific papers and evidence-based recommendations.

Photo provided by MedAire.

FAST FACTS

MedAire works with more than 150 airlines around the world.

More than 3800+ private aircraft take-off with MedAire services on board

The world’s leading aircraft manufacturers include MedAire’s services as standard on all new aircraft sold

MEDAIRE THROUGH THE YEARS

1985: MedAire is incorporated in Phoenix, Ariz.

1986: Management of In-Flight Illness & Injury Training is launched

1986: MedAire sold first medical kit to aviation customer

1987: Established MedLink – the world’s first global response center for aviation

1988: First commercial aviation client

1989: Gulfstream makes MedAire services standard with every Gulfstream purchase

1998: MedAire expands into delivering products and services in Europe 

2006: MedAire launches security services

2007: MedAire becomes IATA Strategic Partner

2008: MedAire becomes an International SOS company

2008: MedAire becomes Industry Partner in AACO (Arab Air Carriers Organization)

2010: MedAire launched Comprehensive Crew Support including Security Advice and Assistance

2017: MedAire launched AVSEC Intel to deliver timely risk information to commercial carriers

2017: MedAire launched Operational Security solution for commercial carriers

2017: MedAire founder, Joan Sullivan Garrett, presented the Meritorious Service to Aviation Award by the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) – its highest honor

2019: AACO named MedAire their security information provider of choice

2019: Joan Sullivan Garrett inducted into the International Air and Space Hall of Fame

2020: Joan Sullivan Garrett to be enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame

SOURCEAero Crew News, April/May 2020
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MedAire
MedAire provides airlines with in-flight medical advice and support, at-destination crew support, aircraft medical kits, and train-the-trainer programs for in-flight medical events. Since 1985, MedAire has been a trusted provider of 24/7 in-flight medical advice and passenger fit-to-fly assessments; 24/7 security advice, information and contingency planning; crisis management services for medical needs after accidents or serious incidents, medical and security support for crew while on duty travel; medical kits and equipment; crew medical training; and pre-travel medical review of MEDIFs. In addition to the provision of services, MedAire is actively engaged in the Aerospace medical community. They provide their extensive insight on in-flight medical events based on their database of 430,000 cases. MedAire provides data analysis to regulators and airlines around the world, and publishes scientific papers and evidence-based recommendations.

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