Airborne diagnosis may be survival key

EBACE Convention News » 2006
November 28, 2006, 8:42 AM

Your boss is worth $100 million and he flies in a $30 million jet, but right now if he has a heart attack in flight he could be worse-protected than a spotty-faced backpacker flying airline on a $500 ticket. If the boss suddenly complains of chest pains halfway across the Atlantic, what are you and your flight attendant going to do about it?

Remote Diagnostics Technology (RDT) believes it has the answer to this dilemma. The UK firm’s Tempus system gives flight crew the sort of diagnostic capability that some emergency room doctors can only dream of, while being simple enough for people with no medical knowledge to operate with practically no training.

Led by straightforward commands on the Tempus screen, flight crew can quickly connect with medical staff at a ground-based emergency support service, such as MedLink in Phoenix, Arizona. Taking instruction from a duty doctor, the crew can take the patient’s vital signs, including two blood pressure readings, pulse rate, blood oxygen levels and a 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) and immediately relay these to the ground for quick assessment. They can also use a camera to send pictures of the patient to reinforce the diagnosis.

Quite apart from the caliber of the medical equipment, the key to Tempus’ effectiveness and reliability is the performance and versatility of its communications systems. RDT made very substantial investments to ensure that the key patient data can be transferred via just about any available communications channel, rendering the same unit suitable for use on an aircraft, a yacht, in the back of a car, or in some remote location.

Tempus can connect to ground-support facilities via the low-speed dual- or single-line satellite communications systems that are still common on aircraft, as well as through dual serial RS-232 channels, ethernet, an integral wireless connection, or integrated tri-band cellphone. RDT has its own global network operations center in London, which serves as an automatic switching center to route the data or voice signals to where they need to go via the most suitable means at the time. This facility has full redundancy in terms of both communications connectivity and electrical power supply.

In fact, the company’s patented ADR (advance data robustness) transmission system has proved to be so effective and reliable that RDT has already sold a license to a major avionics group for use as part of a cockpit system. It is now in talks with another company about a different aircraft application.

What will quickly strike visitors to RDT’s EBACE display (Booth No. 540) is how blissfully simple Tempus is to operate. The company provides comprehensive training for flight crew, but, according to RDT sales and marketing executive director Kate Murphy, “You can still use it even if you’ve forgotten 99 percent of what you were taught.”

The first step is to press a button to select the communications channel to be used for the connection to the ground, choosing from a clear menu on the fold-up screen on the rugged orange box. The system then automatically makes the connection without any further operator input via RDT’s single-dialing system virtual global network.

Flight crew can then talk to a doctor via an earpiece and integral mouthpiece. After a brief description of the patient’s condition (perhaps communicated directly by the patient himself), the medic indicates what tests are needed and the crewmember applies sensors as clearly instructed by the picture prompts. If something has not been done correctly, the system will prompt the user how to rectify the situation, and the ground-based doctor can override any aspect of the system. The controls can be activated via a wrist-mounted panel that makes it easier for crew to move to within reach of the patient and apply the necessary sensors.

Even with the slowest of satcom connections, the ground-based medical advisor will have all the information he or she needs in just a minute or two. They can then form a judgment on what treatment to suggest or whether a diversion to the nearest hospital is necessary. Tempus can store a passenger’s baseline health data so that the medic can compare in-flight test results with his or her normal condition.

A recent incident on a Gulfstream corporate jet proved how intuitive and foolproof Tempus is to use. The crew had just taken delivery of the equipment and were not due to embark on their training for another three days. During a flight, the company CEO started to feel unwell. The crew switched on Tempus and successfully followed the on-screen instructions.

“After I showed Tempus to one corporate pilot he said that he wished I hadn’t shown it to him because he felt he could hardly not invest in the equipment knowing that it could save lives in flight so effectively,” said Murphy.

The price of Tempus can vary significantly depending on which options are selected and how many units are required. For a single system, including all communications options (such as n integrated tri-band GSM cellphone), five-year annual preventive maintenance, all training and any applicable software upgrades, the maximum price would be almost $89,000.” RDT can train four flight crew in four hours, and can also provide training to personnel who will then themselves be able to train colleagues.

Saving lives is obviously the main purpose of Tempus. However, it can also prove its worth n putting a passenger’s mind at rest and avoiding unnecessary and costly flight diversions.

Tempus is in service with several airlines, including Emirates, which has just fitted it to its Airbus A340-500 fleet. It is now installed on more than 400 aircraft around the world.

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