Commercial Airline In-Flight Emergency: Medical Student Response and Review of Medicolegal Issues.J Emerg Med. 2016 Jan; 50(1):74-8.JE
As the prevalence of air travel increases, in-flight medical emergencies occur more frequently. A significant percentage of these emergencies occur when there is no certified physician, nurse, or paramedic onboard. During these situations, flight crews might enlist the help of noncertified passengers, such as medical students, dentists, or emergency medical technicians in training. Although Good Samaritan laws exist, many health care providers are unfamiliar with the limited legal protections and resources provided to them after responding to an in-flight emergency.
A 78-year-old woman lost consciousness and became pulseless onboard a commercial aircraft. No physician was available. A medical student responded and coordinated care with the flight crew, ground support physician, and other passengers. After receiving a packet (4 g) of sublingual sucrose and 1 L i.v. crystalloid, the patient regained pulses and consciousness. The medical student made the decision not to divert the aircraft based on the patient's initial response to therapy and, 45 min later, the patient had normal vital signs. Upon landing, she was met and taken by paramedics to the nearest emergency department for evaluation of her collapse. WHY SHOULD AN EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN BE AWARE OF THIS?: Emergency physicians are the most qualified to assist in-flight emergencies, but they might not be aware of the medicolegal risks involved with in-flight care, the resources available, and the role of the flight crew in liability and decision making. This case, which involved a medical student who was not given explicit protection under Good Samaritan laws, illustrates the authority of the flight crew during these events and highlights areas of uncertainty in the legislation for volunteer medical professionals.