Is your patient fit to fly?

If you’re researching medical transports for the first time, you may have come across the phrase “fit to fly”. You’ll sometimes also hear it called “fit to transport”.

This is a well-known term across the airline industry. It basically means a doctor has decided it’s medically safe to transfer your patient elsewhere for treatment. The reason it’s important for medical repatriations is that you’ll often need this clearance in order to go ahead with a patient transport.

Fine – but how exactly does it work? And who makes the key decisions? Here’s what you need to know.

Is your patient fit to fly

What would stop your patient from flying?

In simple terms, it would mean the risks of transferring them are too high. Your patient would likely be in an extremely critical condition in hospital. Or they might be about to undergo a life-saving operation. Or they might have a condition (like COPD) that makes high-altitude flying riskier for them. Having carried out an assessment, the doctors decide it would be a greater health danger to move your patient from their current location than to transport them elsewhere for treatment.

Who decides whether a patient is “fit to fly”?

The short answer is: we do. That’s because the doctor who takes charge of a patient on a medical transport is ultimately responsible for their health and safety. So only they can make the final decision about whether it’s safe to transfer them. That’s reassuring if the local doctors have been telling you it’s impossible to move your patient. We can do an independent assessment and determine whether that’s really the case.

Why would the local doctors say no?

It’s often because they simply aren’t aware of what an international repatriation service can do. EMS planes come with state-of-the-art medical equipment to ICU level and we can send highly specialised doctors if needed. We transfer patients who have had strokes and heart attacks, who have been injured in war zones, or are COVID-positive and need to be in full isolation. In 95% of cases, there’s a secure way to do the transport.

How would EMS assess your patient?

It’s a multi-stranded process where we gather as much information about your patient as possible. This is how it works:

You call us – when you contact our Operations desk, they’ll ask you lots of questions, including the essentials of what’s happened, where your patient is now and what treatment they’re receiving

We call the local medics – our specialist doctors ring the local hospital and speak to their team. We’ll ask them for the latest medical details on your patient’s status and current treatment. This is known as a Remote Medical Intake (RMI)

We request additional info – we’ll ask the local medics for any relevant documents they may have: doctor’s letters, notes, prescriptions, medical reports. We have a multilingual team on standby, and translators if needed

Our Medical Director reviews the case – though we now have a good idea of whether it’s possible to transfer your patient, our head doctor, Prof Dr Arie van Vugt, will review the details and make the final decision

We confirm the transport – in reviewing the case, Prof Dr Van Vugt will also confirm the transport type that will enable your patient’s secure transfer: air ambulance, road ambulance or medical escort

We prepare the final documentation – our Medical Director will sign and issue a Fit to Fly certificate. If you’re flying with a commercial airline, they may also require a MEDIF or MEDA form confirming your patient’s condition and suitability for travel – we can arrange this with them

Our ambulance team completes a live assessment – on arrival, our medical team will carry out a fresh assessment of your patient to confirm it’s still safe to proceed with their transport. Once complete, they will prepare your patient for transfer

Interested in reading more on this topic? You might find this article helpful

The doctors say our patient is not “fit to fly”: what can we do?

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