Drones deliver defibrillators to patients ahead of ambulances

Every minute counts when dealing with a sudden cardiac arrest. In domestic or out-of-hospital cases, early treatment and a shock from an automated external defibrillator (AED) can improve the chances of survival to 50-70 percent. How can technology support quicker and more effective emergency response?

That was the question a team of researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden wanted to answer through a unique pilot project, using drones to deliver defibrillators to real-life alerts of suspected cardiac arrest.

Researchers partnered with the national emergency operator SOS Alarm, Region Västra Götaland and drone operator Everdrone AB to carry out a four-month study in the cities of Gothenburg and Kungälv in western Sweden. In Summer 2020, the drones took off in response to 12 out of 53 alerts of suspected cardiac arrest in parallel with ambulances. AEDs were successfully delivered by drones in 11 cases (92 percent), and in 7 cases (64 percent) they arrived before the ambulance. The drones traveled a median distance of 3.1 kilometers without causing any disturbances or damage to the surrounding area.

Published by the European Heart Journal, this study confirm drones can be leveraged to transport defibrillators in a safe way and with target precision during real-life emergencies. Researchers noted some enhancements are needed to increase dispatch rate and time benefits. For instance, they are starting a follow-up study to test drones flying at night or with bad weather, and improving the software system for better itinerary management.

Recent guidelines from the European Resuscitation Council include drone-based systems among possible measures to improve emergency response in suspected cardiac arrest cases. Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are increasingly leveraged in healthcare to deliver blood, vaccines, and other medical supplies to rural areas or remote locations, provide relief to victims who need immediate medical attention, facilitate medicine transportation within hospitals or clinics, and even support the home treatment of elderly patients.

Some technical and regulatory challenges need to be managed, but we might be not so far from the day when a drone will dispatch medicines or collect lab tests right to our home.


Photo credit: Karolinska Institutet

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