The Tempus IC telemedicine system

Emergency Telemedicine System Offers In-flight Medical Advice

A briefcase-sized system puts non-medical cabin crew members in contact with ground-based experts during in-flight medical emergencies.

An urgent request for a doctor or paramedic on the speakers of a commercial aircraft signals an onboard medical emergency may be occurring. Now the availability of expert medical advice can be guaranteed every time, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). Etihad Airways, national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, is the latest airline to install the ESA-derived Tempus IC telemedicine system on its long-haul flights.

ESA developed the technology in collaboration with the U.K. manufacturer RDT. Already in service with numerous airlines, the briefcase-sized Tempus IC puts non-medical cabin crew members in contact with ground-based experts during in-flight medical emergencies. Key information about the crew's or a passenger's health can be quickly transmitted via satellite to a dedicated response center. The same vital signs measured routinely in a hospital emergency room, including blood pressure and sugar levels, temperature, and heart rate, are captured to a clinical level of quality. At the same time, crew members can talk with the medical specialists and send them still and moving pictures of the situation.

Imagine a passenger complaining of shoulder pain; he could be sore from lifting luggage or could be experiencing a heart attack. The Tempus IC system can transmit the passenger's electrocardiographic readings to the medical team, allowing them to rule out heart problems and preventing an emergency diversion costing thousands of dollars.

"With the rise of larger aircraft and lower air fares, the number of people of all ages traveling by air is increasing," said Graham Murphy, CEO of RDT. "As a result, the probability of a medical emergency occurring in flight has risen, and the pilot will often divert the flight to the nearest airport where medical attention can be provided. Commercial airlines are interested in telemedicine to improve medical provision for customers as well as to support their staff and crew. In simple terms, better diagnosis directly benefits the airline and its passengers."

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