Impact of an Electronic App on Resident Responses to Simulated In-Flight Medical Emergencies: Randomized Controlled Trial

JMIR Med Educ. 2019 Jun 7;5(1):e10955. doi: 10.2196/10955.


Background: Health care providers are often called to respond to in-flight medical emergencies, but lack familiarity with expected supplies, interventions, and ground medical control support.

Objective: The objective of this study was to determine whether a mobile phone app (airRx) improves responses to simulated in-flight medical emergencies.

Methods: This was a randomized study of volunteer, nonemergency resident physician participants who managed simulated in-flight medical emergencies with or without the app. Simulations took place in a mock-up cabin in the simulation center. Standardized participants played the patient, family member, and flight attendant roles. Live, nonblinded rating was used with occasional video review for data clarification. Participants participated in two simulated in-flight medical emergencies (shortness of breath and syncope) and were evaluated with checklists and global rating scales (GRS). Checklist item success rates, key critical action times, GRS, and pre-post simulation confidence in managing in-flight medical emergencies were compared.

Results: There were 29 participants in each arm (app vs control; N=58) of the study. Mean percentages of completed checklist items for the app versus control groups were mean 56.1 (SD 10.3) versus mean 49.4 (SD 7.4) for shortness of breath (P=.001) and mean 58 (SD 8.1) versus mean 49.8 (SD 7.0) for syncope (P<.001). The GRS improved with the app for the syncope case (mean 3.14, SD 0.89 versus control mean 2.6, SD 0.97; P=.003), but not the shortness of breath case (mean 2.90, SD 0.97 versus control mean 2.81, SD 0.80; P=.43). For timed checklist items, the app group contacted ground support faster for both cases, but the control group was faster to complete vitals and basic exam. Both groups indicated higher confidence in their postsimulation surveys, but the app group demonstrated a greater increase in this measure.

Conclusions: Use of the airRx app prompted some actions, but delayed others. Simulated performance and feedback suggest the app is a useful adjunct for managing in-flight medical emergencies.

Keywords: commercial aviation; ground medical control; in-flight medical emergencies; simulation.