Medical support is an essential aspect for all expeditions. This page will detail the different degrees of medical support an expedition should be looking for.
The medical emergency plan:
Having an effective medical emergency plan is essential; an expedition departing without one is setting them selves up for a fall. It is also the foundation to all other medical support preparations. This plan would detail the step-by-step decision process that a team member will have to do to ensure that an accident is dealt with effectively and efficiently. This plan will then help with the initial set up of an expedition and the thought process of what else the expedition needs to minimise risk.
Click here to see an example of an emergency plan that was used for a sea based climbing expedition in Vietnam.
Knowing what communication methods you have is crucial to making an emergency plan. Is there a mobile signal where you are based? Can you speak the local dialect? These communications not just aid emergency situations but also help in day-to-day expedition life. All of our expeditions go out complete with a grab bag that contains amongst other items all the communication aids, which are:
- A picture based phrase book. – A point it guide is great and one should be able to convey what you want to anyone no matter what language they speak.
- A phrasebook – Knowing how to say what you mean in a local language can smooth out many tricky situations. If the alphabet is hard to read then having a section in the book that allows someone to read what you are trying to say is invaluable. The Lonely Planet series of phrase books are fantastic.
- Mobile phones – Many parts of the world have a great mobile phone signal that negates the need to carry a satellite phone. Having a cheap hand set that is unlocked and can take a local SIM card is a good money saving idea. But it should not replace your own roaming mobile phone. Having the option to change local networks when one has no signal gives much more flexibility instead of relying on one network only.
- Satellite phone – It is very reassuring to know that you have a communication link from almost all places the expedition will visit. We even carry one where we know the mobile phone network is good. We have been on expeditions where the local phone network has gone down because of flash floods and criminal activity. Without the sat phone the expedition would have not been able to use its emergency plan.
- A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) – The final backstop in communications is a PLB that when activated will let your team back home know your location and that something is wrong. These used to be expensive and bulky but are now cheap and light enough for most teams to be able to use them. Various stockists sell them but at the time of writing the cheapest was Marine Megastore click here to see more.
This communication system may sound over the top to the lightweight traveller, but it all fits into a small bag weighing only 1.5kg. Effective communication is one of the essential key factors to any expedition. This equipment should be placed high up on your kit list. If you cannot afford the initial outlay in cost The Expedition Consultancy hires the above system out. Click here to read more.
Now the team has a method of deciding what to do in an emergency and the communications to initiate a rescue it is now important to have the knowledge and kit to deal with the accident. We are not expecting all expedition members to be doctors but we do expect all to have, at the very minimum, current basic first aid knowledge. This combined with common sense can be very effective at saving lives. There are many great first aid course providers in the market and it is good to shop around for one that suits you. Completing one that is styled for the outdoors is advisable. For example Medical Lifesigns has an Expedition Care Programme that runs a 2-day course to achieve this. Click here to read more.
Further training can take basic first aid knowledge to an advanced level. This starts to bridge the gap between medic and first aider. Dave Lucas and Medical Lifesigns have joined forces to design an advanced first aid course specifically aimed at climbers. Click here to find out more.
The knowledge is just one part of first aid support. Having a first aid kit to hand is the other part. To some this may just be a roll of zinc oxide tape and a sachet of painkillers. The Expedition Consultancy has designed a compact lightweight “on the wall” med kit that can be used after completing an advanced first aid course that will vastly improve chances of survival in certain situations. Click here to read more. This med kit as designed as a “satellite” kit for use on climbs and to supplement the main med kit. The Expedition Consultancy has spent along time perfecting their own med kits. This full content has been designed to be used by an EMT but all first aiders will find it of use. The kit includes medication that can be prescribed by a remote medical support* doctor. Click here to see a list of contents.
Emergency medic technician (EMT)
The next level up in medical knowledge from advanced first aid is the EMT. In the UK this is a weeklong course that gives a first aider a greater depth of knowledge and tools that they are able to use to diagnose and treat conditions. There are a few providers of the course in the UK. Lifeskills Medical UK offers the standard EMT course. Medical Lifesigns offers a remote version of the course. Glenmore Lodge offers a very highly regarded WEMSI course. WEMSI International are world leaders in medical courses. This week long course is truly unique, run by doctors, medical practitioners & instructors with genuine ‘in the field’ experience on ratios as low as 1:4. Click on the icons below to read more of each course.
Paramedic and Doctor
Big expeditions always aim to have a doctor on their team to help provide definitive care. In our expedition experience we have found that a doctor is only of use if they have recent accident & emergency experience with in the field experience. An EMT with a good amount of experience can easily replace a GP taken away from their books, support staff and machines. To us the best expedition medics are made up from paramedics and military medics that have had ample amounts of experience dealing with trauma. Do not just be blinded by a doctor’s title, but look at the experience that reinforces their knowledge.
A casualty may need to be carried before they can be stabilised. A casualty may also need to be carried in order to reach definitive medical care. Having a stretcher on an expedition can be a luxury many cannot afford, as they are bulky and often heavy. A sheet made from parachute material with sewn in handles is a very lightweight stretcher if a casualty needs to be moved with no spine immobilisation. These are great and should be a part of all expedition med kits. From there the next in support is the Sked stretcher system. This is a flat sheet of plastic when curved longitudinally becomes rigid. The system roles up and weighs a tidy 8kg. Floats can be attached to make it easily deployed in deep water to pick up casualties with suspected spinal complications. They need a spine splint to offer spine immobilisation, but a neck collar and head brace can provide a much better level then one would expect. The Expedition Consultancy uses a Sked on all their DWS expeditions. On the downside they are expensive and not all expeditions will want to purchase one. We do hire ours out, click here to read more. The Reeve Sleeve is another great stretcher system that has the added advantage of being a true spine immobilisation system. The sleeve folds down to 24”x12”x5” and weighs only 6.8kg. Once in country you will need to find a stretcher for it to slide over, for example a door or bamboo frame.
*Remote medical support
Most expeditions pass without any life threatening conditions that need the help of an expedition medic. Most expeditions are filled with minor incidents like infected cuts, blisters and stomach upsets. These are unpleasant and can, if left untreated, ruin a team member’s expedition. So how do you diagnose a condition and then prescribe the correct medication if your medical support on your expedition is comprised of an EMT and a team of first aiders? This is where remote medical support comes in to their own. Being able to pick up a phone and dial a doctor 24/7 that is able to assist in diagnosis and can then prescribe the correct medication is great. A company tested by The Expedition Consultancy is Remote Medical Support, click here to read more about them.
This page hopefully has highlighted the aspects of medical support that needs to be addressed when planning an expedition. If you need assistance with your medical support then please do not hesitate to contact us. This may be with help writing your emergency plan, sourcing a medic for your expedition, or finding the equipment to make up your med kit. If you feel that you are able to add to this page in any way then please also do not hesitate to contact us.