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Medical emergencies on board commercial airlines: is documentation as expected?

Michael Sand1*, Stephan Morrosch2, Daniel Sand3, Peter Altmeyer1 and Falk G Bechara1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Dermatology, Venereology and Allergology, Ruhr-University Bochum, Gudrunstr. 56, 44791 Bochum, Germany

2 Department of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine, St. Josef Hospital, Ruhr-University Bochum, Gudrunstr. 56, 44791 Bochum, Germany

3 Department of Medicine, Olive View UCLA Medical Center, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), 14445 Olive View Drive, Sylmar, CA 91342, USA

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Critical Care 2012, 16:R42  doi:10.1186/cc11238

Published: 7 March 2012



The purpose of this study was to perform a descriptive, content-based analysis on the different forms of documentation for in-flight medical emergencies that are currently provided in the emergency medical kits on board commercial airlines.


Passenger airlines in the World Airline Directory were contacted between March and May 2011. For each participating airline, sample in-flight medical emergency documentation forms were obtained. All items in the sample documentation forms were subjected to a descriptive analysis and compared to a sample "medical incident report" form published by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).


A total of 1,318 airlines were contacted. Ten airlines agreed to participate in the study and provided a copy of their documentation forms. A descriptive analysis revealed a total of 199 different items, which were summarized into five sub-categories: non-medical data (63), signs and symptoms (68), diagnosis (26), treatment (22) and outcome (20).


The data in this study illustrate a large variation in the documentation of in-flight medical emergencies by different airlines. A higher degree of standardization is preferable to increase the data quality in epidemiologic aeromedical research in the future.