Air Force Upgrading Medical Care

Delivering high quality care to patients and the crew while travelling by air presents new challenges for the Air Force Medical System (AFMS) Situations that may not be an issue on the ground can suddenly be a major problem on an airplane flying at 30,000 feet with space and weight limits. Plus the fact that there is not much additional help available until the plane lands.

For example, providing care to individuals on an airplane creates different oxygen requirements for patients. Patients can be at risk for developing hypoxia or altitude sickness in addition to any oxygen they may need for their care.

There are pressure changes in the cabin that may affect how delicate machinery delivers oxygen. AFMS researchers are investigating how to improve high altitude oxygen systems during medical evacuations as well as the right altitude for planes to fly for certain injuries. Also, the Air Force is trying to determine what impact low oxygen might have on doctors, nurses, and technicians while they care for patients during air transportation.

The Air Force is also concerned about the weight and space needed to transport patients. One example involves the development of a multi-channel infusion pump to allow medical airmen to use a single station to monitor multiple patients. Currently, each pump already a heavy piece of equipment, requires its own monitoring station which takes up takes up valuable space.

The Air Force’s 711th Human Performance Wing and the Naval Medical Research Unit-Dayton (NAMRU-D) are working together to respond to instances where military pilots have experienced physiologic episodes during flight.

According to Dr. Richard D. Arnold, Director, Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, “There are any number of different things that can produce a physiologic we’re attempting to address the episodes systematically, identify everything that could go wrong, and then develop tools to detect when those particular things are going wrong so that pilots will have the tools to respond effectively.”

Both NAMRU-D and the 711th join officials from the Army, NASA, and FAA to meet once a year to discuss past and current aerospace medicine research, programmatic research objectives, future research, and potential collaborations across the U.S. government.

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