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Long−Distance Aeromedical Transport of Patients with COVID−19 in Fixed−Wing Air Ambulance Using a Portable Isolation Unit: Opportunities, Limitations and Mitigation Strategies

Authors Schwabe D, Kellner B, Henkel D, Pilligrath HJ, Krummer S, Zach S, Rohrbeck C, Diefenbach M, Veldman A

Received 11 September 2020

Accepted for publication 24 October 2020

Published 24 November 2020 Volume 2020:12 Pages 411—419


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr Hans-Christoph Pape

Dirk Schwabe,1 Bernhard Kellner,1 Dirk Henkel,1 Heinz Jürgen Pilligrath,1 Stefanie Krummer,1,2 Sascha Zach,1 Cornelia Rohrbeck,1 Michael Diefenbach,1 Alex Veldman1– 3

1Jetcall GmbH&CoKG, Idstein, Germany; 2Department of Pediatrics, St. Vincenz Hospital, Limburg, Germany; 3Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

Correspondence: Alex Veldman
Jetcall GmbH&CoKG, Walramstr. 21, Idstein 65510, Germany

Introduction: Aeromedical transport of patients with highly−infectious diseases, particularly over long distances with extended transport times, is a logistical, medical and organizational challenge. Following the 2014– 2016 Ebola Crisis, sophisticated transport solutions have been developed, mostly utilizing large civilian and military airframes and the patient treated in a large isolation chamber. In the present COVID− 19 pandemic, however, many services offer aeromedical transport of patients with highly−infectious diseases in much smaller portable medical isolation units (PMIU), with the medical team on the outside, delivering care through portholes.
Methods: We conducted a retrospective review of all transports of patients with proven or suspected COVID− 19 disease, transported by Jetcall, Idstein, Germany, between April 1 and August 1, 2020, using a PMIU (EpiShuttle, EpiGuard AS, Oslo, Norway). Demographics and medical data were analyzed using the services’ standardized transport protocols. Transport−associated challenges and optimization strategies were identified by interviewing and debriefing all transport teams after each transport.
Results: Thirteen patients with COVID− 19 have been transported in a PMIU over distances up to 7,400 kilometers (km), with flight times ranging from 02:15 hours to 11:10 hours. We identified the main limitations of PMIU transports as limited access to the patient and reduced manual dexterity when delivering care through the porthole gloves and disconnection of lines and tubes during loading and unloading procedures. Technical solutions such as bluetooth−enabled stethoscopes, cordless ultrasound scanners and communication devices, meticulous preparation of the PMIU and the patient following standardized protocols and scenario−based training of crew members can reduce some of the risks.
Discussion: Transporting a patient with COVID− 19 or any other highly infectious disease in a PMIU is a feasible option even over long distances, but adding a significant layer of additional risk, thus requiring a careful and individualized risk−benefit analysis for each patient prior to transport.

Keywords: highly infectious diseases, COVID− 19, transportation, portable medical isolation unit, aircraft

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