Tag Archives: retrieval

Simple Systems for Getting Things Done in Retrieval

Well this time around we welcome a new contributor. Dr Shane Trevithick is a retrieval doctor with many years experience covering prehospital, interhospital and coordination work when he’s not being an emergency doctor. He’s got a bit on simple systematic approaches that get the job done. 

One of the exciting things that practicing medicine out of a helicopter does is make you a “Rock Star” of the medical world.  Your colleagues and the general public are amazed by your method of arrival on scene, the ensuing dramatic interventions, the sexy uniform, your appearance on the evening news and your general confidence back in the hospital when you can manage dramatic medical problems which seem much easier when they are not trapped upside down in wreckage.

The problem with being a Rock Star performing in a band is that to continue being the Rolling Stones of Medicine [Ed: we would not suggest this reference is in any way a sign of author age] you feel compelled to keep releasing new albums regularly.  This can be a problem, especially with social media, as developments in medicine do not keep pace with the need to tweet and podcast and you are at risk of grabbing the latest study or technique involving patient plumbing and announcing this to the world as the next big thing in the world of Helicopter Rock Band Medicine.

This does tend to mean that you can gloss over some of the basic things which really make a difference to your medicine and your patients. Just like a Rock Star will be completely familiar with the basic things that makes playing their instrument possible, it helps if you can really nail the basics.

So here are a few tips that work for me to do a better job as a retrievalist in whichever team I’m working in.
Have a Plan

A good plan when you approach a patient makes a big difference, especially for an interhospital retrieval. This makes a huge difference to the smoothness of how your retrieval will flow and reduces your risk of making an error by omitting something.  This is a bit like having a checklist but I don’t quite use it like that because really a checklist involves a bit of call and response.  It’s not quite a strict list, more like having a systematic approach to reduce the risk of error.  If you have the same pattern to how you do things you get much quicker and slicker and you are much less likely to miss something.

It took me a lot of years to work out I didn’t have a consistent system.  And when I analysed some the mistakes and complications I had I realised they came about because, like a good anaesthetic registrar would, I modified what I did to fit the Paramedic I was working with, rather than communicating a system that would ensure I didn’t miss things.  If I had actually had any system to do the job myself then I would have avoided a lot of problems.

So here’s the system I created for myself. It might work for you, or might just prompt you to think through what system would work best for your brain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A: Airway

  • Check ETT Size and measurement at a fixed point (e.g. teeth).
  • Check ETT Security – that means connections and how well it is tied/taped. I almost always find myself fixing something about security.
  • Check ETT Site – on an X-ray.

duncan c

B: Breathing

  • How well is the patient breathing? It’s a seemingly simple step but yes, I still remind myself.
  • What are the ventilator settings? Got it, now match them (with the transport ventilator). I tend to work with paramedics who make logistics and practicalities in a brilliant fashion. It always seems that just as I get this step done they are ready with a patient slide to transfer the patient onto the stretcher.

duncan c2

C: Circulation

  • What’s the IV access? Secure that well too.
  • What about the arterial line? Critically ill patients being moved should have this so now is the moment to make sure it’s connected, working and zeroed. This usually matches up with when my friendly paramedic is miraculously also up to the exact bit where I should be helping with the monitoring.

ThoreauDown

D: Drugs

  • Think “I need enough sedation for 3 times the anticipated length of transfer” and make sure you’re ready (plus see the bit below).
  • Also have a think about what things you have handy as downers (mostly sedation and analgesia) and uppers (like metaraminol) which might just come in handy if you get the downers bit not quite right (or for other reasons of course).

Bart Everson

E: Everything Else

  • Do you have all the equipment you brought with you?
  • Do you have the notes?
  • Do you have any scans?
  • Do you have ALL the equipment you brought with you?
  • Do you have any patient belongings, either the material ones or the relatives that also belong to them that you might be bringing?
  • No, really, do you have ALL the equipment?

 

Now, about that sedation

Yes, I gave this it’s own bit because it is really important. Let’s assume you’re highly skilled at drug-assisted intubation. After that there is the post intubation phase, whether you have intubated the patient yourself or whether the patient comes already intubated.

I think it is really important to make a couple of distinctions in retrieval.  One is you are giving “a Retrieval” and NOT “an Anaesthetic” or “a Sedation”.  An Anaesthetic is an art form so important there is an entire medical specialty devoted to it.  But it is basically focussed on having someone pain free, unconscious of what item number is being performed on them, and then woken to a state of bliss in a a calm quiet environment surrounded by nurses fussing over you.  Usually woken relatively quickly after the item number as well.

This does not apply to retrieval.  In a retrieval you do not want your patient to wake up.  Especially over that last speed hump on the roads leading to the hospital.  With apologies to ICU that your retrieval patient will take a day longer to wake up than someone they lightly sedated you have to remember it is not a “sedation” it is a “retrieval”.

There is very little fussing (doctor dependant) and a lot of shaking up/moving/noise/vibration/stimulation.  When I was a retrieval registrar no one discussed this with me and since I was very comfortable to treat people with morphine and midazolam either together or separately, with propofol, (ketamine hadn’t come into use again when I was a registrar) and with fentanyl I just kept running whatever the hospital had chosen assuming that since they were a hospital they had correctly chosen the right sedation for the right patient.  It was also quicker and easier to just keep running whatever they started as we didn’t have to go through the entire fuss of drawing up new drugs.

I am now, with experience, absolutely sure that this is not best practice.  Now I don’t use propofol at all for a retrieval – it is an ideal anaesthetic drug which makes it very poor for A Retrieval. Of course that is only my opinion born of experience with no published data I am aware of (there is a study for someone) however I can promise you that performing a “retrieval” after intubation requires only two drugs for maximum benefit:  Separate infusions of fentanyl and midazolam.  If you are running two inotropes and only have one pump left I will allow you to mix them together but the ideal concentrations are 1000mcg fentanyl in 50mL and 50mg of midazolam in 50mL.  Run them at 10x higher doses than you would use in ICU so you need to think about starting at 200-400mcg/hr fentanyl and heading north and 5-10mg/hr of midazolam.

And if you arrive and your patient is light and coughing on the tube, if their haemodynamics will tolerate it just give them substantial loading doses of these drugs, say 0.1mg/kg midaz and 2mcg/kg fentanyl and then start your high dose infusion.  I can promise you this will be the best tolerated, most cardiostable way of performing “A Retrieval”.

Just remember the gotcha – as your helicopter starts to land at the hospital it will shake violently for 30 seconds or so.  This will cause your patient to wake up and extubate themselves at the one time you can’t go out of  your seatbelt to fix the problem.  Remember to bolus before landing.

 

So there you go.  Some of the basics that can help you be the Rock Star you want to be.

 

Notes:

All the images here are via Creative Commons on flickr and are unchanged here and put up by Izzy by the Sea, Duncan C, ThoreauDown and Bart Everson.

If you have suggestions for future posts hit us up. And if you like the stuff around these parts, you could always consider sharing or signing up to receive emails.

 

 

 

PHARM quality – how do you know when you’re doing it well?

This post from Dr Alan Garner tackles a core problem for all practitioners who give a damn – how do you know you’re doing it well? A chat worth having and Alan has a pretty good summary of the Carebundle approach. 

How do we measure quality in prehospital and retrieval medicine?  Speed?  Number of procedures performed?  Number of twitter followers?

Seriously though, this is a question that vexed me for many years as a service director and trying to find metrics that measure things that mattered seemed an elusive task.  The major part of the problem stemmed from the heterogeneity of the patient population that we treat.  Even simple (but easily measured and therefore attractive to bean counters) things like timeliness are not straightforward.  Not because they are hard to measure but because sometimes time matters and other times it very clearly does not.  Indeed emphasising it as a measure could lead to perverse outcomes for some patients.

Let me give you a couple of examples to illustrate the problem:

Case 1.  Central abdominal stab wound with hypotension.

There is almost no prehospital intervention that matters in this patient except gasoline and perhaps tranexamic acid.  I don’t think anyone would argue that time is a reasonable quality measure in this patient.

Case 2.  COPD patient in a small hospital an hour flying time from the nearest intensive care unit.

Patient is eventually stabilised on non-invasive ventilation after three hours of effort by the transport team at the referring site. They are then safely transported.  Clearly for this patient time does not matter at all.  Reporting turnaround time at the referring site in this patient may place subtle pressure on the team to intubate the patient early and depart – a move that is very clearly not in the patient’s best interests and would have placed the patient at significantly increased risk of unnecessary morbidity and mortality.

This got me thinking that our measures of quality had to be disease process specific or we were never going to move forward.  Speaking with Erwin Stolpe was the turning point in my thinking.

You Should Really Try to Know Erwin

Many of you will not have heard of Erwin.  Sometimes when I talk to people or read things on social media I get the impression that physician staffed HEMS started in about 2005.  The reality of course is quite different.  Erwin is a trauma surgeon from Munich who began flying as a resident on the Christoph 1 service out of that city in 1968 (yes, not a typo – 1968).

Erwin Stolpe
Here he is, at AirMed 2014 in Rome.

These days he no longer flies but is chair of the ADAC medical committee.  For those unfamiliar with ADAC they run about 35 physician staffed HEMS bases in Germany and also operate several jets for longer range transports.  Their HEMS services alone conduct about 50,000 prehospital cases annually.  The breadth and depth of experience of this organisation is extraordinary and Erwin has been there from the beginning.  You would think there might by a few pearls of wisdom there and you would be right.

The Key Cases

Erwin described to me the “tracer diagnosis” process they use to track the quality of the care that they provide.  Analysis of their prehospital caseload indicated that four diagnoses made up 75% of the cases they attended.  For these four diagnoses they defined the treatments that they expected the teams to achieve (see pages 52 onwards of this presentation by Erwin for more detail).  They used national and international consensus guidelines as a base.  They then began reporting against those criteria and they have also started to publish that performance.

What Erwin was calling “tracer diagnoses” is probably better known to us in the English speaking worlds as a “Carebundle”.  Lots of people will be familiar with the ventilator Carebundle for intubated patients in the intensive care unit.   Adherence to the items in the bundle is associated with lower rates of ventilator associated pneumonia.  In NSW and Queensland, Health Departments have introduced bundles for central line insertion in order to tackle the rates of central line associated bacteraemia.  In this case the bundle applies to a procedure or process rather than a diagnosis.  Is there a place for this kind of methodology in the prehospital and retrieval world to improve quality too?

What are we talking about when it comes to PHARM?

Let’s start by looking at what a Carebundle is.

“A bundle is a structured way of improving the processes of care and patient outcomes: a small, straightforward set of evidence-based practices — generally three to five — that, when performed collectively and reliably, have been proven to improve patient outcomes.”

This definition is taken straight from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) website.  There is a bit of controversy regarding whether the items in a Carebundle really need to all be completed for the bundle to be effective in some sort of synergistic way or whether they are in fact just a checklist of items that have been shown to be effective and you get as many done as you can.  I am not aware of any evidence for the synergistic effect multiplier that is implied on IHI website.  I think it is unarguable however that you should try and get as many of the things that are proven to make a difference to that condition completed as possible.  That is certainly the approach that we have taken.

Another quote from the IHI website describes for me what we are trying to achieve by using bundles:

“The power of a bundle comes from the body of science behind it and the method of execution: with complete consistency. It’s not that the changes in a bundle are new; they’re well established best practices, but they’re often not performed uniformly, making treatment unreliable, at times idiosyncratic. A bundle ties the changes together into a package of interventions that people know must be followed for every patient, every single time.”

Using Carebundles in hospitals is clearly not new.  Even in EMS it has been previously described for benchmarking purposes.  The attraction of the methodology for me was that we would know if our care for patients with severe head injury for example was following the best available evidence and we would know what proportion of our patients were receiving that care.  I did not want just some of our patients to get that care, I wanted all of them to get every item of care that we could identify matters for that disease process all of the time.

Making it Match What We Do

For our rapid response service in Sydney we then determined from our medical database the diagnoses that cover 75% of our caseload as ADAC had done.  For us this resulted in the following list:

  • Multiple blunt trauma
  • Isolated severe head injury (GCS<9)
  • Burns (>15% BSA)
  • Penetrating trauma
  • Immersion/drowning
  • Seizures (to which we were often being dispatched as they were mistaken for head injury or had caused a minor traumatic event)
  • ROSC post primary cardiac arrest (similar to seizures – trivial traumatic injury and patient in VF)
  • Traumatic cardiac arrest (for us this is the HOTTT Drill which I have described in a previous post, well podcast but which also includes the HOTTT Drill package to go with it).

We then turned to the evidence based consensus guidelines, Cochrane reviews and good quality RCTs to define the Carebundle items.  This is a sobering process as you realise just how few interventions there are that have good evidence to back them up.  This is particularly true for prehospital care where we are often operating in an evidence free zone.  In many cases we had no choice but to go with the consensus (or best guess as I like to call it).  We decided that we would include intubation for unconscious trauma patients for example despite the evidence not being all that strong and in many cases contradictory.

When we had defined the items for the specific diagnosis we printed them up on cards that team members carry in their pocket.  These serve as a checklist which teams use on site or in transit just to be sure that they have covered all the items.  Below is our isolated severe head injury card – the item I constantly forget is the blood glucose level (BSL).  Highly embarrassing if this is low when you arrive at the trauma centre!  I for one am glad to have the prompt.

BI copy

Some of these items are extrapolated from in-hospital care.  For example having the external auditory meatus (EAM) above the JVP makes sense in terms of managing raised ICP but there is no direct prehospital evidence that shows this changes outcome.  We have also set relatively conservative targets for things like oximetry and blood pressure.  Most of the evidence suggests SpO2 >90% is enough but we felt that desaturation happens very rapidly from this point so we would rather aim a little higher.

Aspirations and Signals

Some of the items we knew from the outset that we would never achieve in all cases.  Scene time of <25mins is the obvious example.  When a patient is trapped this is outside of our control.  We know however that one in five patients with a severe head injury will have a drainable haematoma that is time critical.  We therefore included this item in order to signal to the team that we expect them to treat severe head injury as a time critical disease in the prehospital phase.

Some of the bundles have conditional items as well.  For head injury this is the hypertonic saline which we only expect to be given if there are lateralising signs or neurological deterioration.

When the team returns to base they complete an audit form indicating if the bundle items were achieved and if not, the reason for the variance.  This both reinforces for our personnel the contents of the bundles and also allows us to report on compliance.  Below is an example of our report for severe head injuries showing the reasons of variance in the comments section.

Report copy

You can see that we don’t meet all the targets all the time, and there is usually a good reason when we don’t.  However the Carebundles allow us to be transparent about what we think good care is, and also about how successful we are in achieving it.  We include Carebundle compliance (along with a lot of other stuff) in our external reporting in NSW to the Ministry of Health, NSW Ambulance, The NSW Institute of Trauma and Injury Management and all the trauma centres to which we transport patients.  Transparency is a key component of good governance and this processes helps us to achieve that.

Those People Were Here First

The concept is not new.  I merely walk behind the giants of the industry and follow their lead in this.  It is also worth noting that Russell MacDonald from Ornge in Ontario is leading a similar project with an initial group of 10 “tracer diagnoses” amongst a small international collaboration of critical care transport providers.  It will be interesting to see how closely their bundle items accord with our own.  Aligning our bundle items would allow us to benchmark ourselves against similar organisations in other parts of the world and create opportunities for us to learn from organisations who manage specific conditions better than we do.  In the end this is about maximising the outcomes for our patients and I will gladly accept any help I can get in achieving that.

Notes: 

Here’s the stuff referred to along the way, because the originals remain a vital part of looking at the issue.

J. B. Myers, C. M. Slovis, M. Eckstein et al., “Evidence-based performance measures for emergency medical services systems: a model for expanded EMS benchmarking,” Prehospital Emergency Care, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 141–151, 2008.

Here’s a link to the English version of the “tracer diagnosis” abstract.

Helm M et al.  [Extended medical quality management exemplified by the tracer diagnosis multiple trauma. Pilot study in the air rescue service] Anaesthesist 2012;61(2):106-115.

(Well, not all of us are clever enough to know German.)

Here’s the direct link to the IHI page.

The image of Erwin Stolpe comes from the Intercongress flickr account and is unaltered under the CC 2.0 licence.

 

A Bit Early and A Bit Far Away

We welcome another new contributor to the site with this post. Jodie Martin is a clinical educator and flight nurse working in the Top End of Australia. She has just finished up a Masters which included looking at a big retrieval challenge – preterm births in the wild reaches of the Northern Territory. 

Which retrieval taskings scare you the most? Is it the paediatric trauma patient in the prehospital setting, a long way away from the nearest trauma setting? Or perhaps the critically unwell and septic neonate in a remote clinic, which you know will take you 6 hours to retrieve to a hospital?

For me, it’s the women in preterm labour. Even after 10 years of flight nursing, it’s the women in preterm labour that make me nervous.  And before I became a flight nurse I’d been a midwife for several years, working in rural and remote settings where I became fairly comfortable caring for obstetric patients in an isolated setting, because you had to be really. Aeromedical retrieval teams are rarely as quick as you’d like out there.

So even after a lot of exposure to obstetric patients in isolated areas, it is the preterm labour cases which make me sit on the edge of my seat. These are the cases I really want that crystal ball so we can foresee what is going to happen; is this woman going to deliver before we get there? Do we need to spend time on the ground to wait for birth or can we risk it and transfer her in labour and get her to hospital in time to allow preterm birth in a tertiary health centre? How will I manage an unexpected birth of a preterm baby during flight? Do I need to take all of the 100kg+ neonatal equipment to care for a preterm neonate? Do we need a paediatrician, just in case?

A Brief History of Stopping Labour in the Top End

In 2009 or there about, obstetric services in the Top End of the NT moved away from using IV salbutamol and started using nifedipine as the tocolytic of choice.  This was because nifedipine was seen as a safer tocolytic with less adverse maternal side effects. In particular, there is a high incidence of rheumatic heart disease in the NT and we now had a better option of avoiding the negative effects IV salbutamol can have on cardiac function.

We already knew that facilitating in utero transfer of preterm babies improves their outcomes so that was still our aim. 1 However, I was yet to be convinced nifedipine was a superior choice for the aeromedical transfer of women in preterm labour.

So we turned to the literature to find out about the incidence of inflight births and to determine what happens to the women in preterm labour transported by aeromedical retrieval. Some studies reported no births occur in flight.2 However these studies utilise different types of tocolytics than our aeromedical retrieval service. A Canadian aeromedical retrieval service did report inflight births. 4 of these births occurred despite tocolysis but that tocolytic was not a calcium channel blocker such as nifedipine and the other births received no tocolysis at all 3. Anecdotally we knew at CareFlight NT we’d had 3 inflight preterm births despite nifedipine being administered. In three different Australian based studies which reviewed the transfer of rural and remote women, approximately 50% are in fact discharged.2,4,5

So what about the risks for pregnant women in the Northern Territory? Unfortunately, the news is not good. The NT has the highest rate of preterm births in Australia with 10% of all births occurring before arrival to hospital.6 Indigenous women and newborns do worst on some birth outcomes if they live in a remote area of the Top End of the NT7 and the NT has the highest maternal death rate in Australia.8 So being an Indigenous pregnant woman in a rural remote area of the NT is a combination of a lot of significant risk factors.

Let Me Paint You a Picture of Where We Work

The Top End is a geographical area twice the size of the UK & a just a little smaller than Texas, so around 400,000km2. There are two small rural hospitals which undertake planned low risk, term births. Both hospitals have emergency obstetric and caesarean capability along with the ability to provide immediate neonatal emergency care, but have limited resources to care for a preterm newborn for any extensive period of time.

There are over 35 small remote health centres we service. These health centres have no inpatient facilities and do not perform planned births. These centres can sometimes manage an unexpected normal birth but have no theatre or neonatal nursery care resources. Sometimes there is a remote area midwife available.

There’s only one NICU, which is located at Royal Darwin Hospital. The next closest NICU is 3,027km away in Adelaide. So when a woman presents in preterm labour in a rural or remote area in the Top End of the NT there is a natural level of anxiety as resources are limited, retrieval times can be long and we know we have a high risk obstetric population.

So I thought it was worth looking at our own data on the women we transport in preterm labour to find out more about their outcomes. Plus I needed to do a research project to complete a Masters’ degree.

The aim of our 3 year retrospective study was to determine the outcomes of women in preterm labour transported by aeromedical retrieval. We reviewed all the cases of preterm labour referred to CareFlight NT. Preterm labour was defined as 23+6 to 36+6 weeks gestation with a viable pregnancy. We excluded those women who had been referred after a preterm birth had already occurred. After exclusions for missing & incomplete data, we ended up with a sample of 304 women referred in preterm labour. We examined discharge data at Royal Darwin Hospital to review the outcomes.

What we found

Demographics and retrieval times
The average gestation was 32+2 week and 90% of the women we transferred were Indigenous (there’s that high risk obstetric factor again I mentioned previously).

Retrieval time was taken from time of referral to our logistics coordination unit (LCU) to time of handover at the receiving hospital. Average retrieval time was 5.55hrs. Those women who proceeded to a preterm birth had an average time of birth following referral as 5hrs. Therefore there will be times when a preterm birth occurs before we can get to our destination.

Where preterm birth occurred
The places where women did give birth to a preterm baby:

16% in a remote health clinic

7% in a rural hospital

73% in RDH – the only tertiary health centre in the Top End with neonatal intensive care capabilities

4% elsewhere -3 births occurred in flight, 1 on the tarmac of a remote airstrip and 1 interstate.

Preterm birth remote airstrip-2
Yes of course, this is exactly where we’d like to be setting up for a preterm delivery.

Nearly half of all preterm births which occurred in a rural hospital had been transferred from a remote community to a rural hospital instead of the tertiary centre. It is thought the rural hospital may have been chosen as a destination on occasions it was closer than Royal Darwin Hospital from the referral site and the long transfer was thought likely to end with an inflight birth. This reflects the decision making clinical crews have to be able to make on the run. Detailed midwifery and obstetric assessments and sound judgement are vital skills that the teams have to deploy when faced with the aeromedical retrieval of pregnant women in preterm labour.

Who went on the flights
79% of all retrievals in this cohort were conducted by a flight nurse/midwife alone; 15 (or 44%) of all preterm births occurred outside of any hospital (being a rural or tertiary hospital) with a flight nurse/midwife only crew. This certainly highlights the importance and requirements for ongoing education and training in midwifery, obstetric emergencies and neonatal resuscitation for our flight nurse/midwives plus our rural and remote health colleagues.

Neonatal resus eduation and training-2
Slightly less pressure here.

14% (n=42) of all preterm labour referrals included a CareFlight flight doctor + flight nurse/midwife mix, with 12 preterm births occurring prior to arrival to a tertiary health centre. A paediatrician/paediatric registrar went on 23 taskings (7%) and their skills were required in 5 cases where a preterm birth occurred whilst another 6 of these cases with a paediatrician/paediatric registrar resulted in the woman being discharged with no preterm birth occurring.

Tocolysis
What about the transfer of women in labour after they’d had nifedipine? About half of the women were still contracting upon handover at the receiving hospital whilst 42% had stopped contracting upon handover. 13% of referrals of women in preterm labour delivered a preterm baby prior to arrival at a tertiary health centre despite tocolysis, which could reflect women presenting late in labour & nifedipine not being useful in these and other instances.

Birth outcomes
In aiming to facilitate preterm birth in a tertiary hospital, there will always be a proportion of women who are subsequently transferred and do not go onto give preterm birth. We had a discharge rate of 49% where no preterm birth occurred. Our findings are comparable to other Australian studies. One previous study reported 53% of women in Western Australia transferred by aeromedical retrieval were discharged without birth occurring2 and another study reported 46% of women from rural areas in New South Wales were discharged following transfer to a tertiary centre.5

Yet another study reported 42% of women were discharged without birth occurring following transfer and the authors suggested that remoteness was associated with increasing rates of antenatal transfer.4  This is evident in the results of our study as we found 4% of women were transferred two or more times during a current pregnancy, reflecting the remote nature of the area we service and the high risk obstetric population. We need to expect that in the interest of maximising outcomes for mothers and babies from rural and remote areas, facilitating preterm birth in a tertiary hospital will result in some unnecessary yet costly aeromedical retrievals.

Triage and priority coding

The majority of women were triaged and retrieved appropriately to facilitate aeromedical retrieval in a timely fashion to enable a preterm birth in a tertiary hospital (73%). Five out of the 11 preterm births in a rural hospital were initially planned for retrieval from a remote health centre to the tertiary hospital but were transferred to a rural hospital instead. This may have occurred as the aeromedical crew found the woman was in more advanced labour than anticipated and elected to choose the closer rural hospital. Other aviation factors such as adverse weather may also play a role in these decisions.

Thus triage and priority coding for women in preterm labour reflects accuracy in the need for prompt retrieval, but also sometimes later decisions by the retrieval team who are required to make judgements upon arrival as to whether to allow birth to proceed in an environment with limited resources or risk inflight birth. Decision making on triage and priority coding will always revolve around the facilities and skill of personnel at the referring site, distance, gestational age, cervical dilation, labour advancement and maternal and fetal risk factors.

Stuff this bit of research didn’t tell us

There were several limitations in our study, namely the small sample size and lack of stratification of obstetric risk factors. It was intended at the commencement of this study to report on the doses of nifedipine administered. However, due to lack of documentation and ability to clarify the doses administered, it was decided early in the data collection process to discontinue recording the doses. Thus it has been assumed the dose administered is in accordance with local clinical guidelines (oral nifedipine 20mg given 20-minutely to a maximum of 3 doses in 1 hour then 20mg 3 hourly)10. The doses of nifedipine actually administered may be different to that recommended and therefore the success of in-utero transfer may be dependent on the dose of nifedipine administered.

The Bit for the Fridge Magnet

So, the take home points when it comes to the aeromedical retrieval of women in preterm labour:

  • Prompt retrieval of women in preterm labour is vital to facilitate preterm birth in a tertiary health centre with neonatal intensive care facilities to improve neonatal outcomes or at least get the neonatal intensive care unit to the neonate in a timely manner;
  • Early and aggressive management of preterm labour with nifedipine improves the success of an in-utero transfer;
  • We have a high risk obstetric population in the NT – remember the importance of other preterm labour clinical guidelines such as the administration of steroids and IV antibiotics;
  • Send the right team at the right time. One member of the aeromedical retrieval should have an obstetric/midwifery background. It’s the detailed obstetric assessment which will assist a crew to make that decision of whether to stay and play or scoop and run, hopefully avoiding inflight birth and facilitating a successful inutero transfer to a hospital;
  • Ongoing regular education and training in neonatal resuscitation, neonatal care and obstetric emergencies is paramount for our flight nurses and flight doctors;
  • In the interests of improving maternal and neonatal outcomes, we have to accept that there will be some retrievals of women in preterm labour which weren’t required as a half of them will end up being discharged;
  • Flight crews and retrieval consultants make some tough decisions when it comes to the aeromedical retrieval of women in preterm labour…if only we could have that crystal ball. But at least we know we’re making the right decisions regarding flight crew mix, triage and whether to put a woman in preterm labour on an aircraft or wait on the ground for birth to occur.

And for more details I’ll just have to let you know when the publication hits the journals (very soon I hope …)

 

Notes:

The staff in those photos are OK with those being shared.

The image of MKT airstrip is a Creative Commons one from flickr and is unchanged from the original Ken Hodge posting.

References:

  1. Tara P, Thornton S. Current medical therapy in the prevention and treatment of preterm labour. Seminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine. 2004;9(6):481-489. doi:10.1016/j.siny.2004.08.005
  2. Akl N, Coghlan E, Nathan EA, Langford SA, Newnham J. Aeromedical transfer of women at risk of preterm delivery in remote and rural Western Australia: Why are there no births in flight? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 2012;52(4):327-333. doi: 10.1111/j.1479-828X.2012.01426.x
  3. McCubbin K, Moore S, MacDonald R, Vaillancourt C. Medical transfer of patients in preterm labour: Treatments and tocolytics. Prehospital Emergency Care. 2015;19(1):103-109. doi:10.3109/10903127.2014.942475
  4. Hutchinson F, Davies M. Time-to-delivery after maternal transfer to a tertiary perinatal centre. Biomed Res Int. January 2014:1-6. doi: 10.1155/2014/325919
  5. Badgery-Parker T, Ford J, Jenkins M, G. Morris J, Roberts C. Patterns and outcomes of preterm hospital admissions during pregnancy in NSW, 2001-2008. Med J Aust. 2012; 196(4):261-265.
  6. Barclay L, Kruske S, Bar-Zeev S, Steenkamp M, Josif C, Narjic C, Kildea S. Improving Aboriginal maternal and infant health services in the ‘Top End’ of Australia; synthesis of the findings of a health services research program aimed at engaging stakeholders, developing research capacity and embedding change. BMC Health Services Research. 2014; 14(1):241.
  7. Steenkamp M, Rumbold A, Barclay L, Kildea S. A population-based investigation into inequalities amongst Indigenous mothers and newborns by place of residence in the Northern territory, Australia. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2012;12(44): doi:10.1186/1471-2393-12-44. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2393/12/44. Accessed August 13, 2015.
  8. Li Z, Zeki R, Hilder L, Sullivan E. Australia’s mothers and babies 2011 Perinatal statistics series no. 28. 2013. http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=60129545702. Accessed August 10, 2015.
  9. Roberts C, Henderson-Smart D, Ellwood D. Antenatal transfer of rural women to perinatal centres. High Risk Obstetric and Perinatal Advisory Working Group. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 2000;40(4):377-384.
  10. Alukura C. Minymaku Kutju Tjukurpa – Women’s Business Manual (6th Ed). Alice Springs: Centre for Remote Health; 2015

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks – Or A Visit To An Alien Planet

One of the excellent things about retrieval work is the opportunity a clinician is presented with to try new things. Dr Alan Garner reflects on his recent experiences trying out a very particular branch of retrieval medicine – neonates and paediatrics. 

I have recently had the opportunity to do some work with NETS in NSW due to some staffing issues they have had (completely outside their control). For those not familiar with NETS they are the Newborn and Paediatric Emergency Transport Service in New South Wales (NSW). They are busy too, moving about 2700 patients are year, and fielding calls and offering advice on perhaps another 1500. There are also some perceptions out there in New South Wales that NETS cases take a long time, a good part of which is spent in conference calls.

I am an old dog. It is more than 20 years since I passed my fellowship exam and I have never really had much exposure to neonates, particularly significantly prem ones. My ED practice is in a hospital with a high risk obstetric unit and NICU. These patients never come near the ED. So this has been a scary experience for me dealing with patients that might as well be aliens as they bear so little resemblance to what I know. NETS also has a few legends attached. Mostly of long phone calls and even longer jobs. I came to the job keen to see things for myself.

When they’re the scary sort of alien

Some of my colleagues from CareFlight who are also helping out on the NETS roster are paediatric anaesthetists in their non-retrieval life. The first solo NETS shift that any of us did was by one of my paed anaesthetic colleagues. She was sent to a neonate with severe meconium aspiration in a metropolitan hospital in Sydney. After intubation and ventilation on 100% O2 the baby had airway pressures in the 40s, an unmeasurable tidal volume and pre-ductal saturations of 80. I had nightmares that night wondering what I had got myself into and feeling completely out of my depth.

Despite my initial terror I still managed to front up for my first shift and discovered that my colleague’s patient was possibly the sickest NETS had moved all year. Slightly calmer now I have survived several shifts and thought it might be time to give the old dog’s perspective of the alien landscape I have found myself in.

Describing other planets

For all the adult retrievalists out there that dabble in some paediatrics i.e. people like me, let me try and explain what it is like. Imagine a service set up to do only interhospital transports of patients with respiratory failure. There would be lots of people with COPD and asthma, pneumonia and ARDS. For the first two groups you might spend hours at the scene stabilising a patient on NIV before feeling it is safe to move them.

This represents excellent care as we know that once they are intubated the mortality rises sharply. Same with the pneumonia and ARDS patients – good critical care at the referring site is what it is all about and may even include getting an ECMO team to them. There is absolutely nothing time critical about moving any of them and it would indeed be poor practice to attempt to move them too early.

Now if you have been able to imagine such a service, this is what the population that NETS transports is overwhelmingly like. There is rarely any time critical intervention waiting at the receiving hospital, and getting them stable for transport can take a very long time. Neonates with hyaline membrane disease are the absolutely classic example of the stay and play patient. Intubate them, give some surfactant then wait for it to work. This is excellent management for these patients.

And you also have to understand how physiologically brittle these little creatures are. Just give them a poke and their sats are 70% (you think I am exaggerating). You really want to be sure that you have some sort of stability before you start bouncing a patient like this around in a moving vehicle.

The smallest patient that I have moved was 950gms. The only reason that I agreed to do the move was the kid was basically OK and was being moved from a NICU associated with a paediatric hospital to one closer to the family’s home so that another baby that needed paediatric surgical input could be accommodated.

This baby was “well” with just some air running by high flow nasal prongs. However if you picked him up, he cried or you shook him about (in a moving vehicle) his sats were high 70s/low 80s. And this was a well baby by their definition. The nurse I was with did a fantastic job (thanks Charlotte!) and I did my best to not look like I was getting in the way.

Space and time

For those that think NETS take a long time then you just really don’t get the patient population they deal with. There is no urgent interventional cardiology or transport to stroke centres. There is no parallel in their alternate universe to these patients from the adult world. The closest they get is trauma patients. Trauma however is a tiny proportion of the caseload, and the trend is increasingly to non-operative management wherever possible anyway. I have been hoping to do a trauma case when I have been working for NETS as that is right in my comfort zone. However there have not been any for me to do. Rather it has been lots of prem and term babies, and infants with either respiratory issues or seizures. The one nagging question I have is how a system more used to steady movement of a patient springs into action when they really do have to push it along. A bit more time and I might get to see that too.

Not those sorts of alien but there is a link to phoning home sort of ...
Not those sorts of alien but there is a link to phoning home sort of …

Connecting Across Space

As a team member I have also had the opportunity to listen in to a lot of coordination calls. NETS coordination is a bit of a legend in NSW and rightly so. With a NETS transfer everyone at both ends (and the retrievalists in the middle) is involved in the initial conference call, and often any update calls along the way. And they can be long calls. There is a big plus though everyone knows what the plan is and they own it.

Just last week I was visiting one of the paediatric trauma hospitals in Sydney and they were lamenting that this is sometimes not the case when the adult system was moving a severely injured child, where it’s always been the case that the retrieval team takes the job and gets on with the job. That’s just how it’s been for as long as I’ve been around. They did not know what was happening or when the child would arrive. This is never the case with the NETS system. Although this theoretically is supposed to be the case in the adult world too there are lots of instances where it just does not happen unfortunately (I take as a reference point this report).

People find it easy to point out flaws with their approach, but I think the NETS coord system has several strengths:

  1. NETS encourage the concept of “there is no dumb question” for all the non-paediatric hospitals in NSW. NETS accept that they will field some silly stuff that should probably never have got to them so that they don’t miss any child who really is sick. For the low level stuff they patiently patch the caller in with the local paediatrician (sometimes in the hospital the caller is in) so that the local systems can manage the case wherever possible.
  2. An extension of this is they look for the nearest solution to the problem and don’t assume that a call equates to a request for transport. Getting the right people involved locally can often solve a problem locally. Or the closest solution for the patient might be a service somewhere else like across a state border.
  3. As they work at finding the best solution for the patient, all the players talk together to agree and own the plan. As I have already said, there is never any confusion about who is doing what on a case that NETS coordinate.
  4. The nurses who coordinate the calls at NETS are actually moving babies themselves the day before and after. They know all the logistical and clinical challenges as coordination and transport are both part of the same job. It is notable that London HEMS has a dispatch system which works because the dispatchers are paramedics who work on the helicopter as part of the same job. I don’t think this a coincidence.

Retrieving Little Aliens Produces Other Big Challenges

If NETS has a weakness compared with the adult services it is perhaps the fact that not many of their cases are done by specialists except when they are coaching new registrars. Particularly on the neonatal front some of the babies are fiendishly difficult to stabilise adequately for transport (like the first case done by my poor anaesthetic colleague mentioned above). They really need a consultant neonatologist for these cases as they seriously stretch the capabilities of both the humans and machines (see below) involved in caring for them. Perhaps an unexpected bonus of the recent challenges in staffing will be a few extra specialists in the shift mix seeing as the whole team benefits from their experience when they’re online.

Another issue is the equipment. Across all age groups NETS currently have four different ventilators which is a bit of a nightmare for new registrars coming into their system (although the skill of the nurses is a big mitigator here). Over the years as they have added new lines to the roster to keep up with increasing demand, they have added just enough equipment to keep up without retiring any of the old stuff. Some of the ventilators date from the 1980s. Although they still work, you would not find a machine of that vintage operating in an intensive care unit anywhere in NSW.

Infants are a particular problem. They have some Oxylog 3000 +s but they just will not ventilate a child with an ETT less than 4.5mm diameter and they struggle with bigger kids too if they have any lung pathology. There are newer turbine transport ventilators out there that can deliver a 2ml tidal volume and also ventilate a 100kg 15 year old. One ventilator could do the lot which would significantly decrease the training burden and hence increase patient safety too.

It will take a cash injection to fix this I suspect and it is not just buying the ventilators. The neonatal systems and paediatric bridges will need modification to mount the ventilators and in the aeromedical environment that means engineering certifications etc. etc. No cheap fix here. I understand this is currently being investigated but it can’t come soon enough.

And a final comment on the staff. As I am doctor, I have not had the chance to work directly with many of the NETS doctors as the standard team is doctor/nurse. I have now worked with a number of the nurses though and have been really impressed with their professionalism. It should be obvious from the caseload that I have described above that the little details really matter with these patients.

Like all good critical care nurses the NETS nurses have just the right level of OCD to be obsessive about the stuff that matters, but not quite enough to drive you nuts. I have been impressed with the risk management approach and planning, like discussing best and worst case scenarios with appropriate plans for each on the way to every case.

For me this has been a real learning experience. I am still way out of my comfort zone but hopefully there is still room for a new trick or two from the old dog.

Notes and References:

Here’s that CEC report on Retrieval and Interhospital Transfer again.

The image here is from the Flickr Creative Commons area (unaltered) and was posted originally by JD Hancock.

In the meantime, Alan can’t be the only one who has found something that really challenged them recently. Any stories to share? There are comments for that.

 

Risky Business – Weighing Things Up

The excellent Dr Paul Bailey returns to provide more practical insights from the bit of his work that involves coordination of international medical retrieval. This is the second in (we hope) a recurring series which started here

Greetings everyone, it’s a pleasure to be back for the long awaited second edition of this humble blog. Looking back at my first foray into this unfamiliar world I’m pretty happy with how it reads and I think that it worked out well. If any of you have questions, I’m happy to participate in a bit of to and fro in the comments section.

Where to from here? I thought we might talk about risk. It’s hard to know exactly where to start, but it is fair to say that there are clinical risks, aviation risks, environmental and political risks – and there are probably more but I can’t think of them right now.

Aviation risks are the domain of our pilot colleagues and it’s extremely fair to say that they do a great job. One of the reasons that flying is so safe overall is that pilots specifically (and the aviation industry more generally) take risk very seriously. This might well have something to do with the personal consequences to the pilots of getting it wrong, I’m not sure.

When was the last time, for instance, that the nurses or doctors amongst you had to consider your fatigue score whilst working for a big hospital? What is the mechanism by which you might stop work when you consider yourself impaired or too tired to work any longer? Random drug testing at work anyone? If you’re a doctor or nurse, not likely, unless you are also working in aviation. See what I mean?

Whilst on a job the clinical team are considered part of the crew and whilst it is certainly within our job description to point anything out to the pilots that looks odd – it is up to the pilots to get us there and back safely. One of the Gods of CareFlight said to me once that it was his considered opinion, having been in the game a while, that if the pilots don’t want to go somewhere – for whatever reason – then neither does he. I reckon that is a pretty good rule of thumb.

What about medical risk?

Preparing for an international retrieval, the risk assessment starts straight away. From the Medical Director’s chair, we attempt to have a clinical discussion with SOMEONE close to the patient, usually a doctor or nurse in the originating hospital. This can be difficult – sometimes there are language issues; sometimes standards of care might be different to what we are used to; sometimes it’s just the time of day. How many people would be able to give a comprehensive medical handover at short notice in your hospital at 02:30?

We can also discuss the case with a nurse or doctor from the assistance company as an alternative. Sometimes it is even possible to talk to the patient or their relatives and in fact this is often the best source of up to date information.

It's a pretty long hallway you're looking down to assess the patient.
It’s a pretty long hallway you’re looking down to assess the patient.

In a similar way, patients’ clinical condition can change in the substantial lead time between the activation of a job, your arrival at the bedside and the eventual handover of the patient to the next clinical team.

In the world of international medical retrieval, if the patient is still alive by the time you get there, it is likely that they are in a “survivors” cohort already and will very likely make it to the destination hospital intact. If death was considered imminent, it is unlikely the assistance company would go to the lengths of setting up an international medical retrieval. Sepsis is probably the grand exception to this rule – patients who are septic have progressive illnesses that are not improved by being shaken up in the back of an aircraft.

The summary is that sometimes the information is incomplete, may be in fact be wrong in spite of the best efforts of the Medical Director, or may well have been correct at the time but things have moved on. It’s best to keep an open mind about what you are going to.

Ways to Ruin a Dinner Party – Bring Politics and the Environment

Easy to understand in some ways, and hard to define on paper are the environmental and political risks associated with international medical retrieval.

Some locations are potentially dangerous on a 24/7 basis and it can be a matter of choosing the “least bad” time of day – eg daylight hours – for you to be on the ground, and to make that period of time as short as possible – eg by arranging the patient to meet you at the airport. Sometimes the situation will require the assistance of a security provider. Port Moresby would be an example of a location where any or all of the above statements are true.

Different standards apply in some locations and it can, for instance, be necessary for all fees and charges associated with a patient’s hospitalisation to be paid prior to their departure. Retrieval team as bill settlement agency.  Indeed, sometimes these fees can be very complex and quite difficult to understand. The hospital administrators may not be sympathetic to your timeline with regards to pilot duty hours and a strong wish to depart.

Some counties in our region have relatively new or potentially unstable political situations and this might come into play from time to time. East Timor is a perfect example. It is also possible to find yourself in the thick of a countries political situation in the event that a government official or politician becomes unwell and requires evacuation to a location with a higher standard of medical care.

Just one example - expect the unexpected.
Just one example – expect the unexpected.

 

So the risk is there, what do you do?

In the end, it is not possible to control for everything that could go wrong on a retrieval. The essentials are to be well trained, have the right equipment with you (it’s not much use back at the base), work with good people all of whom are doing their jobs properly and keep an open mind about both the clinical and logistical situation as the case progresses.

So here are some principles we try to follow from the coordinators end:

  • We will not send you to an uncontrolled situation.
  • We will endeavour to have you flying in daylight hours wherever possible.
  • We will do our best to give you a comprehensive medical handover prior to departure and discuss things that might go wrong.
  • The pilots undertake to get you and the patient there and back safely.

And my suggestions for those on the crew?

  • It is vital to maintain situational awareness and to understand that the world of international medical retrieval is fluid and things change – you don’t have to like it but you do need to respond.
  • Good communication is essential – within the clinical team, between the clinical team and the pilots and between those on the mission and the coordinator (not to mention the local organisers). Good communication is your best friend and keeps you, your team and the patient safe.

Until next time …

Keeping Things Calm: Remote Retrieval of the Psychiatric Patient

Jodie Mills, RN works with CareFlight’s Top End Medical Retrieval Service, flying out of Darwin across vast stretches of the Northern Territory. She grew up in the Royal Melbourne Hospital ICU before moving to Darwin 8 years ago where she completed midwifery studies.  She joined CareFlight 4 years ago and slightly pities all those who don’t get to fly in the top end. 

 

When asked to contribute to a blog and write about psychiatric aeromedical retrieval all I heard was my colleagues’ collective signs of “not another psych job!!”

The thing is, I’ve developed a bit of an interest in these patients after closely looking at the psychiatric retrievals in NT for the last 3 years. This specialised patient group presents a huge challenge to both the flight crew and our remote colleagues when presenting acutely unwell in our communities.

By the Numbers

I recently presented at the ASA/FNA/ASAM Aeromedical Retrieval Conference in Brisbane. I thought maybe we had a few psychiatric patients but I quickly realised after my presentation that the number of psychiatric retrievals we undertake in the top end is well above average i.e. its extremely high (15% of our total missions).

From Feb 2012 to the 20th October 2014 we retrieved 651 psychiatric patients, averaging 22-24 per month  – it’s an almost daily occurrence. Demographically the patient population remains consistent with approx. 90% of patients Indigenous Australians, with male to female ratio if 1.45:1. The mean age is 31, however our youngest was 12, our oldest being 74 years.

We have only intubated 3% of this population which has led to expedited admission to the singular psychiatric facility at Royal Darwin Hospital (RDH). The inpatient psychiatric ward at RDH has a catchment area of 700,000 square kilometres.

It’s Not Just a Local Thing

Mental illness throughout the world is on the increase with the WHO (2014) predicting mental illness to be second only to cardiovascular disease for burden of disease by 2030. The stigma associated with mental health issues remains the greatest obstacle to such patients accessing appropriate care. This stigma may be even more pronounced in remote Indigenous communities. Drug induced psychosis, predominantly cannabis (397 patients), followed by suicidal ideation/ hanging (224) were the most common diagnosis with the remaining patients having bipolar, mania or behavioural disturbances.

At the ASA conference I asked my aeromedical peers “How do you transport your psychiatric patients?” the answer was “we don’t, they go by road”. I quickly realised then that CareFlight and other retrieval services working in truly remote areas provide a unique service.

The small window view of a big country.
The small window view of a big country.

The Perfect Storm

We all know too well the challenges involved in the aeromedical transport of compliant patients who are unwell. However if we add delusions, hallucinations, physical aggression a tendency to physical violence and homicidal thoughts into the mix we have a potential aviation disaster on our hands. These are the just some of the symptoms the majority of our psychiatric patients display when referred to CareFlight. We then face the task of transporting such patients in a small aircraft where we will place seatbelts and wrist and ankle restraints on them, we will sit approximately 50cm away from them and the tell them they cannot smoke, they cannot go to the bathroom, they cannot eat or drink. I can’t imagine how stressful this must be for a patient that is already thought disordered.

What We Do

The biggest challenge for the aeromedical clinician is assessing the need and amount of sedation that will be required for safe retrieval of the acute psychiatric patient. If we have learnt anything it is definitely that “one-size DOES NOT fit all” when it comes to choosing sedative combinations to safely retrieve acute psychiatric patients. However we have found that pre-flight sedation with an atypical antipsychotic (olanzapine) and a sedative (diazepam) is of the utmost importance. As we become better skilled at treating psychiatric patients we have increased the pre-sedation (Olanzapine & Diazepam up to 20mg oral) which seems to be decreasing inflight sedation requirements. This enables the psychiatric patient to be admitted to the appropriate ward in a timely manner.

Top Tips for What to Do:

  1. Start sedation early:

As mentioned above, premedication prior to retrieval is vitally important. In most cases an antipsychotic (Olanzapine 10mg) and a benzodiazepine (Diazepam 10mg) is the premedication of choice. However, acute psychiatric patients presenting with drug induced psychosis (be it first or subsequent presentations) routinely require up to 20mg- 30mg of both Olanzapine and Diazepam orally. The first dose of sedation is given prior to the crew departing Darwin and then half an hour prior to the crews landing at the communities/ regional hospitals. This administration is overseen by the Medical Retrieval consultant (MRC) on duty. If the patient is not responding to the Olanzapine and Diazepam, the likelihood of requiring in-flight sedation is increased as is the probability of intubation for transport.

  1. In-Flight sedation:

We find in flight we tend to use midazolam, propofol and ketamine. The drug of choice is directly related to the flight doctor’s area of expertise. The ED Registrars tend to use midazolam and ketamine, whereas the ICU and Anaesthetic registrars head for the propofol and midazolam.

On arrival at the referral centre the patients are assessed for the need for further sedation prior to flight.

  1. Pre-Flight Sedation: Midazolam 2-5mg IV
  2. In-flight Sedation:
    • Propofol Infusion 0.2-0.5mg/kg/hr and titrate as required
    • Ketamine Infusion 0.5-1mg/kg/hr and titrate as required

A Richmond Agitation Sedation Scale (RASS) of -3 (Moderate) to -4 (Deep) or a Ramsey Sedation score of 5 indicates the level of sedation required for safe transport.

The ability to discontinue the sedative and allow the patient to wake prior to admission at the receiving centre is extremely important. If the flight crew are able to deliver an acute psychiatric patient to the receiving centre awake and ready for assessment this expedites the patients’ admission to the in-patient facility from the emergency department or, optimally allows for direct entry into the inpatient facility at the receiving centre.

Richmond Agitation Sedation Scale:                                                                               

Richmond copy

Ramsey Sedation Scale:

Ramsey copy

  1. Managing the environment:

Managing the stressors of flight is extremely important when retrieving an acute psychiatric patient. Using ear plugs, blankets to keep patients warm, positioning for comfort when heavily sedated, limiting cabin conversation and ensuring physical restraint are fastened appropriately ensures the acute psychiatric patient does not experience any extraneous stressors throughout their flight.

  1. Local law enforcement:

On occasion the local law enforcement will be involved with the acute psychiatric retrieval. The resource poor environment of the community clinic necessitates the presence of police to help control patients as documented under the section 9.

  1. Coordination:

The coordinating Medical Retrieval Consultant will liaise with the Consultant Psychiatrist on call at the hospital, alerting them to the impending admission.   The Consultant Psychiatrist then coordinates  with their in-patient team to ensure timely assessment of the patient if they are to be admitted through the emergency department.

 

Although the collective groan when another psychiatric retrieval arises resonates through the base we remain steadfast in our support to our rural and remote colleagues and we will continue to play a vital role in maintaining safety of the community, the families and the patients who are all touched by mental illness in the top end of the NT.

 

Thoughts from the Control Tower

This is the first of what we hope will be a series of posts from Dr Paul Bailey who works as a Medical Director for CareFlight International Air Ambulance. Paul will try to provide insights into the challenges of managing retrievals across oceans. Here’s the starter. 

In his real life, Paul Bailey is an Emergency Physician based in Perth, Western Australia who dabbles in the Greyhound racing industry (having owned 10 dogs and never been to the track).  He can often be found in the outer at an Aussie Rules football oval, most commonly critiquing the performance of the umpires in an entirely constructive manner.  Past lives include a molecular biology PhD – in Jellyfish venom – don’t ask – and being a glassy in various drinking establishments in Western Australia. 

 Paul has previously undertaken international retrievals, helicopter work supporting Australian Army exercises and time with Queensland Rescue at Cairns. He now makes cameo appearances on the International Medical Director roster, as a medical director for retrievals in the NT and the Inpex oil and gas business.

 

If you’ve decided to be involved in retrieval, why think local when you can think global? After many years of toiling through school, then medical school, and then advanced training in the acute care specialty of your choice, you’re now in the hot seat ready to go.

Living the Dream

You’ve always fancied yourself as an airborne medico ever since you sat on your Dad’s knee watching “The Flying Doctors” in the late ‘80s and thinking how cool that would be. Truth be told, you also liked Top Gun and from time to time have drawn a laugh with the immortal line: “Negative Ghostrider, the pattern is full.” But you still buzzed the control tower anyway.

Fly Past copy

Or perhaps more likely you rode that little bit too close to your Mum on your BMX. You’ve also heard, along the way that everyone in retrieval gets a nickname and you’re tossing up between Maverick and Goose.

Top Gun copy

And it’s safe to say you have bought the Ray Ban Aviators already.

 

Living the Reality

So what’s it really like? Different to that, not surprisingly.

CareFlight International Air Ambulance (CFIAA) is an ever changing beast, with our clinical teams and aircraft based in Darwin and Sydney. Over the journey we have also had aircraft in Perth and Cairns. Depending on where the team is on duty, they are most likely to be flying between Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Darwin and Adelaide (for Darwin crews) and Fiji, Noumea, Norfolk Island, Sydney and Brisbane if you are based in Sydney. Of course, it’s international so there actually isn’t a spot on the globe that shouldn’t be thought of as up for grabs.

Co-ordinators and Medical Directors sit behind the team at all times and, due to the miracle of mobile phones and the internet can be almost anywhere. Many of these folk never meet in person but are always looking over everybody’s shoulder.

More of that later, in this awe inspiring opening to the series I though I’d start with how it all gets going – who pays for it all?

 

The People with the Deep Pockets – Travel Insurers and Governments

When your average citizen takes out travel insurance, it is most likely to protect against such tragedies as losing an iPhone overseas, dropping a wallet in the ocean or perhaps finding himself in Vietnam and his luggage in downtown Boston. Having been in this game a while now, it is my opinion that if losing your iPhone is the worst thing that happens on your holiday you’ve had a pretty good time.

Recliners copy

It may surprise you to know that a travel insurance policy is, by and large, a health insurance policy. Greater than 95% of the spend of travel insurance companies relates directly to health costs.

Each travel insurer has a series of service providers sitting behind them, one of which is an assistance company. There are a relatively small number of assistance companies that engage in this type of work. They have 24h call centres with co-ordinators, nurses and doctors (much like us).

In the event that John Q Citizen becomes unwell or is injured whilst they are away – by getting gored by a bull in Pamplona for instance – they or their relatives call the assistance company and a whole train of events unfolds, which might include directing patients towards local health care facilities to help with their medical problems.

The assistance company will maintain contact with the now patient and their family, and depending on how things in the event that the medical issue is of a serious nature, things tend to pan out in one of two ways that relate to the quality of health care available locally and the underlying urgency of the patient’s medical condition.

Let’s focus on the sicker end of the spectrum because clearly many issues are of a minor nature and never come anywhere near us.

If “definitive care” is available locally AND the quality of local medical care is high AND treatment of the matter is urgent assistance companies will usually head down the route of electing to keep the patient where they are for treatment in the theory that that is both (a) best for the patient and (b) cheaper than an international medical retrieval.

If “definitive care” is NOT available locally OR the quality of local medical care is questionable it is then the key decisions become urgency and mode of transport.  There are, again, an array of transport options available but seeing as we are in the Air Ambulance business, again we might focus on that.

 

Send in the Big Bird

The assistance company, having decided that medical evacuation is required and that this is most appropriately by air ambulance asks its panel of Air Ambulance providers for a quote. At this stage, the available information usually consists of the patient location and their ultimate destination. No clinical information is available.

Our co-ordinator submits a quote, and due to the price of aviation fuel the retrieval company with the aircraft that has to do the least amount of flying to get the job done is usually cheapest. Paperwork is exchanged and the job confirmed.

Clinical information is then available and at this stage the CFIAA Medical Director is brought into the discussion – to liaise with treating clinicians at the hospital of origin as well as the destination unit. How many times is it quick and easy to have a chat with someone you’ve never met in the hospital? Well, it is fair to say that these conversations can be difficult – finding the right person in an overseas hospital at a sometimes odd times of day and surmounting the language barrier is not straightforward.

We are often going to locations where the quality of the medical and nursing staff are excellent but the broad array of diagnostic equipment that many of us consider routine are just not available. Similarly there are many locations where the patient will have a problem that is unable to be treated effectively with the resources available locally. It’s part of the game, and in many ways it’s why we are needed in the first place. A lot of the legwork for the coordinator is about trying to construct a story that is useful for the retrieval team and help plan for every contingency.

So, that’s a summary of all the things that happen before you get to find out about a case. We haven’t even got to the challenges of the actual patient yet.

I might finish off with a thought for the day:

If you can open your packs blindfolded, upside down and in a thunder storm – and know where everything will be, you have satisfactorily completed orientation.