The death of actress Carrie Fisher has raised the question of what happens when someone suffers a medical emergency during a flight.
Fisher, 60, suffered a heart attack onboard a transatlantic flight from London to Los Angeles. Fisher died four days after the heart attack.
An in-flight medical emergency is different than those that take place on the ground, in that a 911 call will not be possible. A service called MedLink, however, is providing a valuable service for airline companies around the world, in order to help them get through medical emergencies in the air.
MedLink is located inside Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, and when there is any sort of medical emergency onboard a plane, flight crew members can be patched through to talk directly to a doctor on the ground. More than 120 different airlines around the world use the service.
"We get ranges," said Dr. Moneesh Bhow. "Anywhere from nausea and vomiting, to passing out, to somebody having a heart attack, or somebody in cardiac arrest."
"Last year, we got 38,000 calls, that makes it more than 100 calls a day," said Dr. Paulo Alves, the Global Medical Director for Medaire."
Dr. Moneesh Bhow described the process taken when the service is needed.
"Somebody from the flight crew, the pilot or the cabin steward director will contact Medlink," Dr. Bhow said. "We'll gather some basic information, and that basic information is then given to one of the physicians for review. Then we'll speak to that same person, and make recommendations."
After evaluating the situation, the doctors will relay their recommendation to the pilot, from diverting to the nearest airport to continuing on to their destination.
It's all in a day's work for doctors who treat their patients, while never seeing them.