Poll: Should doctors be compensated for responding to in-flight medical emergencies?

When an airline passenger has a medical emergency mid-flight, a call normally goes out asking for a doctor among the passengers to help. One study has estimated 350 such emergencies in the air every day, worldwide.

Airlines appeal to a doctor’s sense of duty when asking for their help, and generally don’t provide anything more than a token gesture of appreciation. But should physicians who respond to the call be financially compensated by the airlines for providing in-flight medical care?

Providing medical treatment on a plane is risky. Planes are ill-equipped to deal with medical emergencies, and often have little equipment or medication. A plane’s cabin offers very little room to move around, and a plane at 8,000 feet has about 75% of normal oxygen levels at sea level, which can make patients with breathing or cardiac difficulties worse.

Combined, these issues increase the medical malpractice risk. And despite Good Samaritan laws that offer some degree of protection, there have been in-flight emergencies that ended up in court because of poor outcomes.

So, when you consider these issues, along with the fact that a doctor’s help saves airlines from hiring their own medical staff, and can prevent planes from making costly emergency landings, it’s only fair that airlines make it their policy to compensate physicians who respond to medical emergencies in the air.

I encourage you to listen and vote in this week’s poll, located both below, and in the upper right column of the blog.