With RDT’s Tempus, there’s always a doctor on board

 - November 7, 2006, 8:02 AM

Virgin Atlantic Airways is the latest major carrier to improve its passengers’ chances of surviving a major health problem in flight by investing in the Tempus medical emergency response system from Remote Diagnostics Technology (Booth No. 888). But if anything, the case for installing the system in business aircraft cabins is even stronger because the chances of there being a doctor onboard are statistically much smaller for this type of operation. According to the UK firm, “numerous” undisclosed Fortune 500 companies now have Tempus on their aircraft, as do 16 head-of-state flight departments and both BMI and Emirates Airlines.

Many corporate flight attendants will have at least some first-aid training, but they will inevitably feel exposed when trying to help a passenger complaining of severe chest pains halfway across the Atlantic Ocean. What has made Tempus so effective in these situations is that it combines the sort of diagnostic capability found in the most modern hospital emergency rooms, while being sufficiently instinctive and simple to use by people under pressure who have only the most elementary training.

Led by straightforward commands on the Tempus screen, crewmembers can connect with staff at a ground-based emergency support service, such as MedLink in Phoenix. 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 (EKG)–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.

The patients’ data can be transferred to and from the ground via low-speed, dual- or single-line satellite communications systems that are still common on most aircraft, as well as through dual serial RS-232 channels, ethernet, an integral wireless connection or integrated tri-band cellphone. The Tempus orange box can be carried off the aircraft to be used on a yacht or in a car.

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 available channel. This facility has full redundancy in terms of both communications connectivity and electrical power supply. In fact, RDT’s patented ADR (advance data robustness) transmission system has proved to be so effective and reliable that a major avionics group recently bought a license to use it as part of one of its own cockpit systems.

Tempus customer flight crews are provided with comprehensive training with the system. However, 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.”

Fool-proof Simplicity

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 menu on the fold-up screen. The system then automatically makes the connection without any further operator input via RDT’s single-dialing system virtual global network.

Flight crew or passengers can then talk to a doctor via an earpiece and integral mouthpiece. After a brief description of the patient’s condition, the medic indicates what tests are needed and the crewmember applies sensors as directed by picture-prompts on the screen. If a step has not been completed correctly, the system will prompt the user as to how to rectify the situation, and the doctor can override any aspect of the system at all times. The controls can be activated via a wrist-mount panel that makes it easier for crew to move to within reach of the patient and apply the necessary sensors.

Even with the slowest satcom connections, the ground-based medical advisor will have all the necessary information within a minute or two, the manufacturer claims. The advisor can then suggest what treatment might be required and whether a diversion to the nearest hospital is necessary. Tempus can store a passenger’s baseline health data so that the doctor can compare in-flight test results with his or her normal condition.

A recent incident on a Gulfstream proved how intuitive and foolproof Tempus is to use, Murphy said. The crew had just taken delivery of the equipment and were not scheduled for their training for another three days. However, during a flight, the company CEO started to feel unwell. The crew switched on Tempus and successfully followed the on-screen instructions to get the boss the help he needed.

“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 an integrated tri-band cellphone), five-year annual preventative maintenance, all training and applicable software upgrades, the maximum price would be $89,000. RDT can train four flight crewmembers in four hours and can also provide instruction to staff who will then train other colleagues.

Among the corporate operators that have bought the Tempus system for their aircraft are Fletcher-Jones, Kevin Air and Schering-Plough.