Flight Paramedics Treat Patients Up in the Air with Handheld Ultrasound

Jeff Brytczuk spends his days responding to emergency calls and assessing critically-ill patients… in a helicopter that’s 2,500 feet above the ground. Jeff is a flight paramedic with Geisinger Life Flight, an emergency rescue service that transports critical patients from accident scenes, premature newborns, cardiac patients, and critical care adult, pediatric and organ transplant patients.

Serving an area that stretches across 400 miles in rural Pennsylvania and New York, the Geisinger Life Flight provides pre-hospital on-scene advanced life support care and rapid transportation to trauma centers, burn centers and critical care facilities. The crew, which consists of a pilot, a flight registered nurse, a certified flight paramedic and in some cases, a flight physician or specialty nurse, is now equipped with a handheld ultrasound called Vscan Extend™.[1] The device is the size of a smartphone and has a dual probe, which enables clinicians to make focused assessments and accelerate treatment decisions at the point of care.

Previously, the crew was performing basic physical exams, but trying to hear a heartbeat or lung sounds with a stethoscope proved to be a futile effort with the helicopter’s din and vibrations. The pocket-sized device now enables the paramedic to “see” under the skin and evaluate the patient.

“By understanding the physiology of the patient, we can potentially influence their course of treatment, stay ahead of the curve, and cut down on the golden trauma hour – the time period following a traumatic injury when there is the highest likelihood that prompt medical treatment will prevent death,” says Dr. Robert Strony, Medical Director Point of Care Ultrasound and Emergency Ultrasound Fellowship Director. “For example, with ultrasound, we can detect life threatening traumatic pathology, such as pneumothorax, pericardial effusion or hemoperitoneum, and alert the physicians on the ground. When we touch down, the patient can immediately get any necessary interventions.”

The nine helicopters take off approximately 2,500 times every year – servicing more than 60,000 patients since the program’s inception in 1979.




Vscan Extend also has a cloud-based tool for image sharing and archiving – called Tricefy Uplink[2] – so that the team can easily archive the clinical images from the scene and send the images to the clinicians onsite prior to their arrival. This also enables the prehospital ultrasound images obtained from the Vscan Extend to undergo quality assurance and are used for continuous flight crew education. 

“By sending images directly to the receiving hospital, we can update the trauma surgeons and have the doctors ready, which can significantly cut back on time that is critical to the patient,” says Dr. Strony. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm around having this ultrasound onboard. In the future, we may add other modalities so that we can offer even more thorough care.”

[1] This device has been verified for limited use outside of professional healthcare facilities including during transport. Use is restricted to environmental properties described in the user manual. Please contact your GE Healthcare sales representative for detailed information. [2] Internet access is required for transmission of images and data with Tricefy Uplink to the Tricefy server.