AMS Flying Doctors

AMS teams of flying doctors and nurses on the airport
tarmac after repatriating a patient to his home country
Staff Nurse Chin Yueng Chei never imagined that her career in nursing would entail travelling with patients by air, sea and land, almost always at a moment’s notice.  Since joining Asia Medevac Services (AMS) four years ago, she and her colleague, Staff Nurse Mastura Zakariah, have teamed up with medical professionals to accompany critically ill patients for emergency bed-to-bed transfers in the Asia Pacific region.  

AMS comprises full-time teams of medical professionals in Johor Baru who are providing an essential medical evacuation service to meet the needs of people who are seeking to do their best to save the lives of their loved ones.

Dr Terence Ooi [Left] and Nurse Chin Yueng Chei [2nd
from Left] helping to transfer a patient into the aircraft
Formed in Johor Baru in 2011, AMS is managed and operated by a group of 15 medical professionals with extensive experience in Emergency Critical Care and Retrieval Medicine.  

AMS is among the pioneers in air and land medical evacuation services that use air and land ambulances that are fully equipped with state-of-the art medical facilities for specialists to do their jobs in mobile Intensive Care Units.  In this service, qualified and experienced aero-medical specialists will closely monitor and escort critically ill patients in bed-to-bed transfers. 

Dr Koh Teck Wai [Left] accompanying an
11-year old patient with encephalopathy from
Pontianak, Indonesia to a Singapore hospital
“Our job is to make the transfer experience a high-quality one,” said AMS Medical Director and Medical Team Leader, Dr Patrick Cheah Wei Chen, who emphasized that the ventilator they use is on par with that used by the Swiss air ambulance.  

On receipt of the patient’s documents, Dr Cheah will ascertain the medical needs to assign a doctor with the specific specialisation and if the patient was below age 15, Pediatric & Neonatal Medical Team Leader, Dr Koh Teck Wai, will be assigned to the job.  It usually takes up to 3 hours for the aircraft, ambulance and receiving hospital arrangements to be completed before the patient is ready to be moved and for countries like China, India and Bangladesh, arrangements may take up to half a day.

“Every minute affects the patient’s life,” said AMS full-time on-call doctor, Dr Terence Ooi Seng Hooi, a specialist in Respiratory Medicine, who had the experience of working under challenging circumstances, even with misleading information and poor diagnosis, especially with patients in developing countries.  He cited an example of attending to a patient on a tiny island in the Indian Ocean, suspected of suffering a stroke, but the nearest medical facility was only equipped with an x-ray machine.  With limited information, Dr Ooi has no alternative but to do his job based on his experience and intuition.

Nurse Chin [Right] closely
monitoring a patient in the aircraft
Another full-time on-call doctor, Dr Shahrul Fauzi Musa, said that communication is of utmost importance because doctors cannot do their jobs well if they did not have the support of a good communication system between the administration and medical teams.  He said critically ill patients who require speedy and safe evacuation depend fully on the abilities of the professional healthcare team to airlift or ferry them with intensive emergency medical care in a smooth and efficient journey.  “We each have our own responsibilities and we work together with strong teamwork,” he added.

“It’s more cost effective for AMS to provide this service from our base in Johor Baru,” said AMS Medical Advisor, Dr Tan Chow Wei, a family physician who runs The People’s Dispensary, the oldest clinic in JB.  “Since our inception, we have been involved in air ambulance cases mainly in Indonesia with others in Australia, India, Bangladesh, China and Vietnam.  Our land ambulance medical teams have also provided medical evacuation services throughout various states in West Malaysia,” said Dr Tan.

Dr Terence Ooi [Left] and the local medical
evacuation team transferring a patient with
ventilated support from Surabaya, Indonesia
to a hospital in Singapore
With human lives at stake, there are countless challenges on the job and because the human heart can stop beating without warning, the doctors often meet with circumstances that are beyond their control.  Dr Cheah recalled AMS’s first case to airlift a heart patient from Surabaya and how the patient’s heart suddenly stopped beating just 10 minutes into the flight.  He performed Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) for about two and a half hours to keep the patient stable until their arrival and the patient was safely admitted to the receiving hospital in Singapore. 

AMS is pleased with the good cooperation from the JB Immigration Department particularly with critically ill patients and newborn babies who require temporary emergency passports to leave the country for treatment.  As two passport size photos of the patient are required for the travel document, AMS will process this efficiently for the Immigration officer to do his job.  After the Immigration officer has sighted and verified the patient, a temporary document may be issued within 2 hours for the patient to travel.  “We cannot ask a critically ill patient where he kept his passport and even if we found it, the passport may have expired, so to save time and his life, AMS usually applies for a temporary emergency passport,” said Dr Ooi. 

Every care is take to keep the patient comfortable
in every medical evacuation case
In addition to air and land ambulance emergency care services, AMS also provides services where the medical team escorts patients who wish to be repatriated to their home countries by commercial flights.  The medical team comprising a specialist and nurse will travel with the patient who may be supported by the necessary medical equipment until the patient is handed over to the receiving hospital.  

Just like the doctors on-call, Nurse Chin and Nurse Mastura keep a backpack packed with their passport and personal effects, ready to travel again on short notice in response to emergency calls in their jobs with AMS.

Asia Medevac Services is located at #G-19, Tropical Inn Hotel, 15, Jalan Gereja, 80100 Johor Baru.  24-hours Emergency Hotline Tel: +607 – 221 7178, 227 1618 and +6017 – 609 8868.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 10 December 2014

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