FAA Medicine Summit

Recently, the FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine invited AOPA and other industry stakeholders to participate in an Aviation Medicine Summit via Zoom. 

AOPA staff joined almost 90 other FAA staff and aviation user groups to review the FAA medical certification process, and to brainstorm about what can be done to make the system of medically qualifying pilots a more efficient and timely activity.

The half-day meeting produced some outstanding dialogue and an opportunity for all players in the certification system, AMEs, FAA, the airlines, and advocacy groups, to share perspectives and gain a better understanding of the complexity and bureaucracy of keeping the airspace safe.

One of the big takeaways for me was something we experience in the Pilot Information Center Medical Certification group in our role of reviewing and providing counsel to members’ medical records prior to submission to the FAA. Review of pilots’ medical records is a huge consumer of staff time for the FAA Legal Instrument Examiners and physicians whose job it is to make certification decisions based on the evaluation of the medical records provided by airmen at the request of the FAA. So far in 2020, the FAA has received about 110,000 pieces of correspondence from airmen, representing 1.7 million pages of scanned records!

That requirement presents a dilemma that we all struggle with in trying to help pilots determine just “what” records the FAA needs to see. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a great idea to be proactive when you determine there is a change in your medical status that will require reporting something on your next FAA medical application that is new to the FAA. A review of AOPA’s online medical certification resources or a call to our Pilot Information Center will help you strategize on what to expect from the FAA based on your new medical history. Sometimes, it’s a brief “status report,” called a consultation note, or office note, from your treating physician regarding a benign tumor removed from your back that is inconsequential and results in an office issuance by your AME.

However, life isn’t always that simple, and we can go from excellent health to multiple illnesses and other situations that complicate what the FAA will need. Again, the dilemma is, how much information is enough and how much is too much? It depends! We always say, give the FAA what they ask for—nothing more, nothing less. That makes everyone’s task easier and results most times in faster certification decisions.

Just like flying the airplane is a very deliberate process, so is preparing your package for the FAA review. We have talked about this before, but the key takeaway that came out of the summit meeting is that the more records provided, the longer it takes to review those records and make a decision. That in turn means the longer it takes to get a response while you’re not flying.

We see it in our record review process for Pilot Protection Services. If a pilot calls in and tells us we’re going to receive a PDF or FedEx package that contains 360 pages of records, we immediately conclude that 90% of those records are probably not needed for medical certification review purposes. But we are going to read everything you send, just like the FAA does, just to make sure we’re seeing what we need to see and not all the other stuff that includes pages of nurses’ notes during the hospitalization, your diet, your medications given, the lab work done during the stay, your insurance information, privacy disclosures, and the myriad other pages of records that are generated through the EMR (electronic medical records) system used by your health care provider.

Obviously, it isn’t always possible to know exactly what’s relevant and what’s not. That’s our job in PPS, but with a huge file of several hundred pages, it just isn’t practical for our staff to relate to you what needs to stay and what needs to come out. (You can help us with that task. Try to arrange the records chronologically with oldest information first, most recent info last. Then, number each page in sequence so when we contact you, we can tell you which pages don’t need to go in the package.)

That’s the point the FAA docs made at the summit. When a pilot hasn’t done the homework to know at least approximately what the FAA needs, and just does a data dump of everything they can get their hands on, the medical review process is significantly hampered, and, worse, it delays you getting your certificate!

Everyone’s situation is different, of course, but there are some general guidelines for what the FAA wants and needs to make a decision on your case. If you don’t provide what they need, they will send you a letter asking for more, but if you can be preloaded and have basic records to send initially after your flight physical, you are ahead of the game.

So, here is the basic “laundry list” of records that most commonly will be requested.

  • First, a “current status report,” current meaning within the preceding 90 days, from your treating physician or other health care provider.
  • For past hospitalizations, you will need the Admission History and Physical Exam, a report dictated by your admitting doctor that explains why you’re being admitted.
  • Also, diagnostic test results, such as CT scans, MRI, etc.
  • Procedures, such as surgical reports.
  • Discharge summary from the hospital.
  • Current lab work.

Those records will get you started for most things, but the FAA will ask for whatever else they may need.

The important thing is to keep it basic. If you’re PPS Plus, we can take a look at the records before anything goes to the FAA to make sure you have what they need, and that the information looks favorable for the issuance of a medical.

Till next time, be safe out here and go flying!

Portrait of Gary Crump, AOPA's director of medical certification with a Cessna 182 Skylane at the National Aviation Community Center.
Frederick, MD USA
Gary Crump
Gary is the Director of AOPA’s Pilot Information Center Medical Certification Section and has spent the last 32 years assisting AOPA members. He is also a former Operating Room Technician, Professional Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician, and has been a pilot since 1973.

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