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Airlines loath to make a medical-related emergency landings

Unscheduled landings are a nuisance for passengers. But they are a bigger problem for the airlines. These diversions can cost the carrier anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000. While the final decision involving a diversion is made by the pilot, this financial reckoning prompts many airlines to avoid diversions even when there is a medical emergency on the plane.

They don't need or want the doctor on the plane

Traditionally, if a passenger got sick on the plane, the first move would be to ask if there was a medical doctor on the plane. According to Bloomberg, carriers now often hire medical consultants on the ground to analyze the information given by the flight attendant and then advise the airline on how to proceed.

The reason airlines are using these services is that medical professionals on the plane are more likely to recommend an emergency landing rather than shouldering the responsibility of treating a patient under difficult conditions. These consultants also take the responsibility out of the hands of the in-flight medical professional and turn them into information gatherers who can perform whatever response is recommended. This function can also be done by flight attendants, who are trained and equipped with iPads for contacting the medical consultants to do so.

No malpractice suits

While some doctors may feel uncomfortable with treating a patient on the plane, many still feel obligated to do something as part of honoring the Hippocratic Oath. If they do, they do not have to worry about a medical malpractice suit -- federal law protects airlines and medical professionals from medical malpractice if a patient is treated in the air.

Bad news for the ill and injured

According to the New England Journal of Medicine study from 2013, a medical emergency occurs once every 604 flights. Only 7.3 percent of these lead to diversion, while 0.3 percent of emergencies on planes result in deaths. Despite these numbers, the combination of federal law and economics works against those who become sick on a plane. There are many stories of individuals told they will get medical attention at the conclusion of the scheduled flight, which sometimes causes greater harm than if they were diverted to get help sooner.

Some of the injured are fighting back by working with a lawyer to seek compensation for negligent treatment. The injured whose situation is worsened may have the legal right to receive damages. It is important to hold airlines accountable for exacerbating a potentially serious or deadly condition.

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