airambulanceIn a world first, London’s Air Ambulance is trialling brain scanning in a pre-hospital environment, to detect potentially life-threatening brain injuries before patients reach hospital.

The Air Ambulance has been fitted with an Infrascanner, which works by detecting blood clots on the brain, allowing for earlier and more accurate diagnosis of potentially life-threatening injuries. Early diagnosis will speed up the patient’s access to any further treatment that they may need once they arrive at hospital.

The Infrascanner is a small hand-held device that takes less than two minutes to operate. By using it pre-hospital, it is possible to better inform emergency departments of potentially life-threatening bleeding on the brain. Doing so can enable operating theatres to be set up accordingly and ready for the next stage of treatment. It also means medical teams know when not to carry out certain treatments too, and it can also be used while the patient is being transferred to hospital, saving further potentially life-critical time for the patient.  

The device has a 90% accuracy rate in hospital for finding clinically relevant blood clots on the brain. With this trial, London’s Air Ambulance aims to match these figures in the pre-hospital environment. 

Mark Wilson, London’s Air Ambulance Doctor and Consultant Neurosurgeon at Imperial College London, said: “It is really important to be able to find out what is going on inside a patient’s head and get a clearer picture of any injuries sustained. By doing this during the transfer to hospital, we hope to be able to expedite treatments, such as surgery, by knowing in advance what type of brain injury the patient has.” 

Funding for the trial has been provided by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Brain Injury Healthcare Technology Co-operative (HTC) through its ‘Innovation Small Funding Competition 2014-5’.

The trial will finish in the Spring and has been used on more than 60 of London’s Air Ambulance patients to date.

Professor John D Pickard, Honorary Director of the NIHR Brain Injury Healthcare Technology Co-operative, said: “The HTC is delighted to be supporting Dr Wilson’s vision of pre-hospital imaging of head injured patients through this pilot study. London’s Air Ambulance and other pre-hospital emergency providers are to be congratulated upon their enthusiasm for research to identify affordable ways to further improve the outcomes for our critically injured patients.” 

Last year, London’s Air Ambulance treated 1,806 patients of which 60% were involved in road traffic collisions and falls from heights – mechanisms that are commonly associated with causing head injury.