CareFlight’s medical research honour roll continues to grow with a prestigious award to Darwin-based flight nurse Jodie Mills at the national aeromedical industry conference in Brisbane.

Jodie was recognised for the Best Research and Audit Report for her paper on retrieval of acute psychiatric patients. The paper, based on data from 617 cases over two years, provided a number of insights ranging from crew composition to pre-flight and in-flight sedation.

The conference, jointly organised by the Aeromedical Society of Australasia, Flight Nurses Australia and the Australasian Society of Aerospace Medicine, is the industry’s major annual event.

Jodie, originally from Casterton in western Victoria, came to CareFlight from Royal Darwin Hospital where she worked in maternity and intensive care. “I always wanted to fly and I always wanted to fly in the outback,” she said.

Her research was motivated by a desire to help improve understanding of one of the more challenging aspects of CareFlight’s rapidly expanding role in medical retrieval in the Top End.

“I happened to find something that I find interesting and that can help make changes to social policy,” Jodie said.

Jodie’s paper highlighted the lack of research worldwide into the challenges of aeromedical retrieval for agitated and/or incapacitated psychiatric patients. The issues are compounded by the special needs of the Top End remote communities where 90 per cent of patients in the study were indigenous and where youth suicide is a major issue.

Almost one in four of the patients were “frequent flyers” who had required removal to hospital in Darwin more than once, including 17 who made the journey five or more times.

Just under one-third were as a result of some form of self-harm or overdose. The paper has been used to inform further discussions with NT health agencies and other stakeholders about how psychiatric services can be better tailored to the needs of these communities.

In December 2015, Jodie secured a grant from the Emergency Medicine Foundation for a clinical trial comparing the benefits of the drugs propofol and ketamine for sedating mental health patients during flight.

This study will build on Jodie’s earlier paper documenting the challenges of psychiatric retrievals in the NT.