UPDATE: Includes information on a previously designed AED drone
Defibrillator carrying drones could be diving in to save lives in the future, delivering equipment significantly faster than ambulances, according to a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Researchers in Sweden tested the theory that drones would be able to make it to emergency cardiac arrests faster than current system. In a simulated study, researchers found that the drones were able to arrive approximately 16 minutes faster than standard emergency systems on average, according to the JAMA article.
“Cardiac arrest is one of the major killers in the western world. Every minute is crucial; I would say every second is crucial. Every minute that passes from collapse to [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] or defibrillation, the chances of survival goes down by 10%. That’s why survival after 10 to 12min is basically zero. There’s a huge difference in using the defibrillator within the first few minutes. Even if you improve the timing of the ambulances in these type of situations, it’s too late – only one in 10 victims survive,” study lead Jacob Hollenberg of Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute told The Guardian.
The drone was developed and certified by the Swedish Transportation Agency, and is equipped with a GPS, high definition camera, integrated autopilot software systems and the ability to carry an automated external defibrillator. Each drone’s flight was managed autonomously, monitored by a dispatcher, according to the study.
Researchers in the study sent the drones to locations where out-of-hospital cardiac arrests had been previously reported, and times to delivery were compared against ambulances.
The study reported that the median time from call to dispatch was 3 minutes for ambulances, and a minuscule 3 seconds for the drone. The median time to arrival for the drone was 5 minutes and 21 seconds, significantly lower than the average 22 minutes with ambulances.
The study was limited by the small number of flights, weather conditions and changes in traffic, according to the JAMA article.
Future trials could examine the use of drones for responding to other emergencies, including allergic reactions and road traffic accidents, according to The Guardian’s interview with Hollenberg.
“I am all about saving lives. We have to work together with the authorities and air traffic control systems,” Hollenberg told the paper.
The Swedish researchers weren’t the 1st to create an AED-equipped drone, however. In 2014, a graduate student at Holland’s TU Delft University created a drone specifically for that purpose.
The drone, designed with an AED built into its core design, was created with hopes that it could reach patients in a single minute, less than the average 10 minutes.
The system included a camera, microphone and speaker to allow remote paramedics to navigate the drone and guide individuals through use of the device. The inventor claimed that the device could increase survival rates during cardiac arrest from 8% to 80%, according to a 2014 report from Crisis Response.