It’s a reusable, single-patient isolation and transport pod - imagine an adult sized hospital incubator - conceived to provide maximum safety and comfort for patients while critical care is performed.
The pandemic created a surge in demand for EpiShuttle, first conceived back in 2015, when doctors from Oslo University Hospital in Norway treated Ebola patients in West Africa and Norway.
Given the risks involved in transporting infected patients, the team designed medical equipment that could protect both the environment and the sick. In recent months, the technology has been widely used in many European countries, including Denmark and Germany, to transfer critically ill coronavirus patients to hospital.
"Healthcare workers are making an admirable effort transporting patients and, at the same time, putting their own health on the line. But if we had to disinfect all helicopters, aircrafts and ambulances after each transport, the whole system might collapse," says Ellen Cathrine Andersen, the CEO of EpiGuard - the Norwegian medical company founded by the doctors who developed EpiShuttle.
EpiShuttle, © Epiguard, 2020
Dr. Jörg Braun © DRF Luftrettung
Dr. Jörg Braun is the head of the Medicine Department at DRF Luftrettung, a German Air Ambulance Service. In recent years, Jörg and his team have been testing the suitability of EpiShuttle for the transportation of patients with infectious diseases, like measles, influenza, tuberculosis and meningococci.
At the outbreak of coronavirus, the service was in a good position to procure the isolation pods at short notice.
By the end of November 2020, it had performed a total of 448 coronavirus missions, and in 42 cases EpiShuttle was used.
"Our 11 EpiShuttles are an important investment in the safety and health of patients and crew,” says Jörg.
© DRF Luftrettung, 2020
Bo Elbaek Pedersen © Prehospital, Central Region Denmark, 2018
This is Bo Elbæk Pedersen. He’s the head of the Health Emergency Department at Prehospital in Denmark’s Central Region. For Bo, EpiShuttle works well because it ensures the safe transportation of those in need, and, thanks to the isolation technology, first responders and medical crew do not get infected.
"EpiShuttle allows us to safely handle patients through a variety of infectious diseases, but it also allows us to ensure the safety of personnel,” says Bo."
Between January and November 2020, EpiShuttle was activated 31 times, and 17 critical coronavirus patients were successfully transferred to hospital.
It was in Denmark, in March 2020, that the EpiShuttle was used for the first time ever in a helicopter performing a search and rescue operation. Since then, it’s become very clear how well the technology can be used to airlift sick patients to hospital, especially in remote areas or on one of Denmark’s many islands.
© Prehospital, Central Region, Denmark, 2020
What’s next for EpiShuttle?
EpiShuttle’s success has demonstrated the value of investment in medical research and innovation. The EU is now funding research into an upgraded design to be deployed in the fight against coronavirus and other diseases. The EpiShuttle 2.0 aims to add modern gas disinfection technology to make the pods more cost-effective in the long-run.
The EU’s response to the pandemic
As we look to the future, infectious disease outbreaks could become more frequent, especially when combined with our modern lifestyle and international travelling patterns. It’s vital that investment is made in revolutionary medical technology so we can contain the spread of the virus and offer life-saving medical care to patients.
And the EU is doing just that, funding innovative projects targeting the pandemic, from diagnostics to treatments, from vaccines to preparedness for future outbreaks.