Swedish Drones Equipped with Defibrillator to Aid Heart Emergencies

Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles used mostly for recreational purposes. For the first time, an experiment in Sweden has tested its use for cases of cardiac medical emergencies. They fitted a drone with a defibrillator, a device that delivers a dose of electric current to the shock to treat life-threatening cardiac arrests.

During a cardiac arrest, minutes count. In the simulated emergency trial, as published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers showed that drones could carry external defibrillators to cardiac arrest victims much faster than ambulances.

As per the report by the American Heart Association, over 350,000 cases of cardiac arrests happen in the United States outside of the hospital each year, and these are attended by emergency medical services (EMS). The records say that the median response time of these EMS services was 30 minutes, and the survival rate was zero.

Cardiac arrest may be reversed if cardiopulmonary resuscitation is carried out and a defibrillation is done within a few minutes. So, any system that could deliver such care more quickly would therefore be a boon.

In this simulation, a drone equipped with an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) reaches rural areas where, in theory, an observer could untie the device and apply it on a cardiac arrest victim. This drone developed by Swedish researchers was completely autonomous. It had a GPS (Global Positioning System), autopilot software, and a high definition camera, and was directed by two licensed pilots who sent it GPS routes and coordinates.

The researchers concentrated on those locations in a rural place of Sweden where people has suffered cardiac arrests in the period between 2006 and 2014. In October 2016, they consecutively dispatched the drone 18 times over a period of 72 hours. From dispatch to launch, the drone took an average period of three seconds (the period for the EMS to reach the road was three minutes). From dispatch to arrival, the drone took about 5 minutes. In all cases, the drone reached faster than the EMS which took 22 minutes to arrive at the spot. The average decrease in the response time was 16 minutes and 39 seconds.

Thus, the drone system for providing immediate medical aid to cardiac arrest victims in rural areas can be a boon which could save hundreds of lives each year.

Though the study found that drones equipped with defibrillators may reduce the time taken to provide first aid treatment for cardiac arrest patients in rural areas, inclusion of more parameters in the experiment is needed, say the researchers.

Incorporation of technological advancements, more number of test flights, assessment of integration with aviation administrators and dispatch centers, study of the outcomes of cardiopulmonary resuscitation attempts carried out by onlookers versus resuscitation attempts by trained emergency technicians, etc. are some of the parameters that should be included.

The researchers are currently carrying out such an optimization work on the drones, and the system will be ready for execution within the next two years.

Drones are also utilized to deliver medical services to people living in rural locations of the U.S. The first drone approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was operated by the Health Wagon clinic, Southwestern Virginia, in collaboration with NASA to deliver medicine and other medical supplies to Wise Country for an annual health fair. The Scientific American reports that the regular use of the drone has, however, been restricted by the FAA.

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