Passengers travelling with British Airways, the fourth largest air carrier in the world, will enjoy increased safety and comfort in the future thanks to the introduction of both Medtronic Physio-Control's LIFEPAK 500 automated external defibrillator (AED) and Micromedical's Biolog portable electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor on board of each aircraft. Cardiac patient emergencies will be taken proper care of during the flight since the ECG data can immediately be transmitted to an expert physician on the ground via advanced satellite communications technology.
In early spring 1999, all 250 British Airways' machines will be equipped with the sophisticated medical in-flight system to assist the more than 41 million passengers who each year are making use of BA's airline services, in case of emergency. The flight crew will receive extensive training in the handling of the new AED and ECG tools, in order to adequately and swiftly respond to sudden cardiac patient disorders in the air. In this regard, British Airways will be the very first air carrier to take full advantage of the telemedical benefits provided by powerful defibrillators and satellite cardiac monitors.
Medtronic Physio-Control, based in Redmond, Washington, is the designer of the LIFEPAK 500 device, allowing aircraft personnel without special medical expertise to assist people suffering from ventricular fibrillation (VF). Via a powerful electrical shock, the irregular quivering of the heart is interrupted to allow the organ to regain its normal beat. The Biolog monitor has been developed by Micromedical Industries Ltd. Distributed by Physio-Control, the system produces 12-lead ECG data with high diagnostic quality in order to determine whether a patient is having a heart attack.
In life-threatening circumstances, the medical experts on the ground may advise the crew to fly to the nearest airport of a city with the appropriate facilities. A stand-by emergency team will be waiting on the runway in order to transport the passenger to a hospital where everything has been prepared in the meanwhile to rescue the patient with "clot-busting" drugs or by means of angioplasty. In this way, the use of telemedicine avoids any delay in transport and treatment, thus substantially enhancing the patient's chances for survival and full recovery.
The presence of a separate ECG monitor on board, such as the Biolog unit, has two major advantages. Depending on the position of the aircraft, it may be necessary to monitor the patient's ECG for several hours. If no portable ECG device is available, the flight attendants will use the automated external defibrillator to control the irregular heart rhythm while running the risk of exhausting the AED batteries. If the patient needs defibrillation at a later stage, there might be no power left. An independent Biolog device is able to avert this kind of danger.
Second, British Airways has taken into account the privacy and comfort of the passenger by choosing the Biolog unit. In contrast with the AED which has been provided with large electrodes, there is no need for the patient to remove his clothing, since the ECG can be read from the monitor without any further difficulty nor fuss. As a result, the combination of LIFEPAK 500 with Biolog offers an advanced and integrated system for cardiac response during long flight travels. Please, find more details in the VMW article Monitors can check cardiac emergencies worldwide in the October 1998 issue.