How often do we hear the phrase – Is there a doctor on-board?

I recall hearing that phrase at least 4 times on flights – probably more.

Different doctors have different attitudes toward stepping in. In general, an uncompensated doctor is protected from liability via Good Samaritan Laws – as long as the intervention is not grossly negligent or intentionally harmful – a pretty high standard.

The legal literature is devoid of examples of doctors being sued because of their mile-high activities. Still doctors who have spent time with the medico-legal system are reluctant to participate.

Lufthansa recently announced a program to make it more inviting for doctors to step up. It’s called the Doctor On Board Program.

When you register, your name and your medical field will be stored at Miles & More so that in a medical emergency the flight attendants can locate you quickly and ask for your help. If several doctors are on board at the same time, a medical council of various fields is possible in serious cases. By that we save valuable time and render speedy help.

When you book flights in future simply give your Miles & More card number as usual. We shall then know that we can rely on your medical support on board.

Lufthansa assures participants they have your back.

Your legal situation as the doctor treating a patient on board is covered. You are covered personally, within the framework of third-party insurance that Deutsche Lufthansa AG has concluded for such cases, against possible claims of recourse by the passenger you have treated. Intent is of course excluded. This disclaimer of liability applies to doctors and skilled lay assistants.

The benefit: 5,000 frequent flyer miles on your first flight plus a free copy of The Handbook of Aviation Medicine and Inflight Medical Emergencies.

One wonders whether this benefit negates Good Samaritan immunity. Typically, Good Samaritan immunity is conditioned on no payment for services rendered. Arguably, by being a mere member in a program, you are not being paid for individual care, just for your identification as someone with potential skills. But, how is that different from being on a call schedule- and being paid for taking call (even if you never submit a bill to a patient in the ER)?

I applaud Lufthansa for making an effort to make flying safer for its passengers. Lufthansa based in Germany- a country with a different medico-legal system than ours. Perhaps the frequent flyer benefit should be adjusted for risk by country of origin.

Oh, one more thing. If Lufthansa has a list of who might be available to provide medical care, will they continue to serve alcoholic beverages to the volunteers? One can imagine this scenario – 4 drinks into the flight. Is there a doctor on board? The inebriated doctor steps up. The lawsuit against Lufthansa – the deep pocket – reads “the airline with wanton disregard for the welfare of the passenger proceeded to intoxicate the sole practitioner able to rend care.” I hate to be a pessimist.