An online medic

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Field medicine, for soldiers and civilians alike, gets smarter

HALF WAY through a flight from Mumbai to London, a male passenger complains of a swollen right hand and an inability to bend his fingers. The flight attendants are uncertain about what to do and hook the passenger up to a small device which takes and transmits vital signs, including his pulse, blood pressure and a picture of his hand to a ground-based medical team. As the passenger’s condition worsens, the device is also used to transmit an electrocardiographic (ECG) trace, which rules out heart problems. The passenger is stabilised and monitored with the assistance of a doctor on the flight and the decision is made to continue the journey rather than divert to the nearest airport.

Medical emergencies like this often occur on aircraft, and there are not always doctors on board. But in this incident the doctor says she would have asked for the flight to be diverted if it had not been for the ability of the portable vital-signs monitor being carried on the aircraft to rule out a heart attack. Now these remote health monitors are becoming even more sophisticated and capable of being used in the most extreme conditions.

RDT, a British company based near Basingstoke, makes the Tempus system of telemedicine monitors—the type used on the Mumbai flight. Besides aircraft, it also supplies them for ships and for use at remote locations like oil wells. The Tempus is similar to a high-end portable monitor used by some ambulance crews, except that it is small, extremely rugged and capable of simultaneously transmitting the data for vital signs, including ECG, blood-sugar and blood-oxygen levels, along with voice and video pictures. It can do this in multiple ways, with built in Wi-Fi, mobile, satellite and Bluetooth communication links. It is also designed to be simple to operate using a touch-screen and pictorial instructions, so the need for training is minimal.

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