Look in the sky; it’s a bird, it’s a plane … no, folks, it’s a drone. In only a few years, these diminutive unmanned and all-purpose aircraft have gone from trendy birthday gifts to a common and vital part of many aspects of our day to day lives. And now they might just save your life if you’re having a heart attack.
Life-Saving Drone Deliveries
According to research done by members of the Journal of the American Medical Association, drones carrying the lifesaving devices known as automated external defibrillators were able to arrive on the scene in less than 20 minutes, with the median time being between five and 15 minutes faster than modern ambulances were able to do the same.
Testing the Theory
The study also concluded that out of the 18 flights recorded, drones could be dispatched to the scene of an emergency in a matter of seconds, compared to the minutes that traditional emergency services take to begin driving to the scene.
The drones in the study were preprogrammed with their destinations and flew from 2006 to 2013 in the Stockholm archipelago in Sweden, where around 4,500 people die from cardiac arrest die each year.
“That’s an absolutely crucial difference. The chances of survival increase from almost zero to just over 40 percent if a heart starter lands in your garden,” Andreas Claesson said in the study.
What This News Could Mean
In a nation like the U.S. where someone experiences a heart attack every 43 seconds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nearly one million drone owners have been registered by the Federal Aviation Administration, the potential impact of drone-borne AEDs is more than evident.
“This is a really neat, innovative method to combat a problem that we have been struggling with for decades,” Dr. Michael Kurz told National Public Radio. “It’s the same reason we have public access to defibrillation. Airports, casinos, large public venues have AEDs on the wall because presumably, it would take a while for EMS to get there. This is, like, public-access defibrillation on steroids, where we just bring the defibrillator to you.”
Hospitals in Sweden have already begun experimenting with using drones to transport medical samples in an urban setting, which presents its own set of complications due to the prevalence of pedestrians and buildings in the area. Even so, the Swiss post says that the regular use of drones to transport materials will become an everyday occurrence, which could eventually extend to drones bringing AEDs to emergency locations.
While medical drones have been used to assist doctors in rural areas in the past, the application of these flying robots in an urban area, like the Swiss city of Lugano, opens up more opportunities for drones to serve as life-saving devices in the future.
To Infinity and Beyond
Drones have also been used in search and rescue missions in rural areas, and are considerably cheaper than other airborne medical transport solutions. Given their ability to transport loads from five to 100 pounds, drones can revolutionize the way we respond to countless emergency situations.
“Drones are going to decrease the reliance on human beings that provide care and decrease the cost of assisting people,” Dr. Jeremy Tucker, vice president of patient safety and regional medical director at MEP Health, told Unmanned Systems. “Being able to cross long distances at faster speeds to deliver blood products and lab samples also is a huge benefit. Now transporting blood products between hospitals, for example, involves vehicles on the ground that are prone to accidents and delays. Drones can help decrease those incidents.”
While these drones have yet to be deployed in these particular situations in America, the only thing keeping them from carrying life-saving materials to patients thus far is legislation. Hopefully, in time, the federal government sees the need for these tools to be added to the doctor’s bag.
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Sources: [Engadget, Inside Unmanned Systems, Journal of the American Medical Association, Mayo Clinic, NPR, Recode, Smart Cities Council, Sputnik News, The Verge, The Verge]
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