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Swiss Air-Rescue Rega, to home page

“Our aircraft are flying intensive care units”

PD Dr. med. Roland Albrecht, Rega Medical Director and member of the Management Board, explains how medical care in the field of air rescue has changed over the last 70 years and why the crews train together for an emergency by means of medical simulations.

What is Rega’s philosophy in terms of medicine?
Rega wants the very best for its patients. What is medically possible on the ground – that is, in a hospital – should also be possible on board our aircraft. This is a major challenge, because to achieve this we have to continually look for new solutions so that intensive care medicine can “learn to fly”. 

What challenges are you faced with in the process?
If we want to carry on board hightech medical equipment, such as a heart-lung machine, numerous regulations have to be observed. For example, the fixtures of such a device need to withstand a g-force of up to 20. The engineers at Rega’s in-house Design and Development Centre support us so that we can use such equipment for our patients. That is something the Rega pioneers could only dream of.

How has medical care changed since the early days?
In the first helicopters, there was no room to take along medical staff or to care for the patients. The helicopter simply served as a means of transport. Nevertheless, it was a huge step forward because it enabled patients to be treated more quickly in hospital.

The helicopter is still a means of transport today…
Yes, but it’s much more than that. Nowadays, we bring intensive medical care directly to the patient at the scene of the accident. Our emergency physicians start treatment on location, using stateof-the-art equipment and mobile devices that are also used in hospital intensive care units. The cabins of Rega’s helicopters and jets are optimally equipped according to our specifications.

What medical care can you provide on board nowadays?
Our aircraft are flying intensive care units. We can even transport patients with severe cardiovascular and/or pulmonary diseases who rely on a machine to assume part or all of their respiratory and/or cardiac functions. Rega was not only the first air rescue organisation to carry out such a transport with its ambulance jet at a normal flight altitude across the Atlantic, but also holds the record for the longest transport of this kind, from London to Taiwan.

This is in keeping with the fundamental idea of Rega’s founder, Dr. med. Rudolf Bucher.
Exactly. Already 70 years ago, he said: “Comprehensive help is only possible if we succeed in uniting the very best staff training with the very best equipment to form a highly efficient whole.” We want to live up to this claim.

Do you have an example of this?
Our modern equipment and the fixtures on board the aircraft are important. But technology is only as good as the person that operates it. For us, the basic and ongoing training of the crews takes top priority.

How do you train the crews?
Among other things, we regularly conduct medical simulation training. The focus here is on optimal cooperation and communication within the team when caring for the patient.

What form does this training take?
We simulate missions in which the crews practise dealing with critical medical situations on a simulation manikin that reacts to their interventions just like a real patient. Everything is recorded on video and then analysed step by step. For a team that regularly trains together has a better chance of success in real-life, life-threatening situations – ultimately for the benefit of our patients.

Rega is constantly striving to improve the medical care it provides to its patients. As a research partner of the University Hospitals in Berne, Lausanne and Zurich, it has been driving forward medical research for a number of years under the leadership of Medical Director PD Dr. med. Roland Albrecht, in order to test new methods and equipment and further develop tried-and-tested concepts, as well as to make a contribution to preclinical emergency medicine in Switzerland.


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