Researchers: Lifesaving Drones Can Arrive ‘Long Before’ Ambulance

New research is showing that a specially constructed drone equipped with a defibrillator can be dispatched by an alarm and delivered automatically to the site of a cardiac arrest long before an ambulance arrives.

The research, published in medical periodical JAMA, was conducted in Sweden by the Centre for Resuscitation Science at medical university Karolinska Institutet and Stockholm South General Hospital.

“This study clearly shows that unmanned aircraft, drones, show great potential in being able to deliver a defibrillator long before an ambulance arrives, particularly in remote areas,” says Andreas Claesson, paramedic and lead researcher at Karolinska Institutet’s Centre for Resuscitation Science.

The specially adapted, defibrillator-equipped drone was developed in partnership with engineers at FlyPulse AB in Trollhättan, Sweden. For the study, the drone was dispatched and automatically flown out of view of the pilot within a radius of 10 kilometers. It was test-flown to the exact destination to which an ambulance had driven for 18 cardiac arrest incidents between 2006 and 2013 in the Norrtälje municipality in Sweden.

Their respective arrival times were then compared: The drone, which was sent from Älmsta rescue services, had a response time from alarm to being airborne of only three seconds and an average time from alarm to arrival at the scene of approximately five minutes – which is 16 minutes shorter than was stated in the ambulance records, according to the research.

The researchers note that their team was given permission by the Swedish Transport Agency and the Swedish Civil Aviation Administration to fly beyond the visual line of sight of the operator. In addition, the project was funded with a grant from the Stockholm County Council Innovation Fund.

Andreas Claesson

“In areas with longer ambulance response times of up to 30 minutes, the chances of surviving a cardiac arrest are tiny,” Claesson adds. “Drones able to deliver defibrillators can reach the patient inside the first few minutes and are thus a new and important complement to existing emergency services. With an early shock from a defibrillator within the first three to five minutes after cardiac arrest, up to 70 percent of patients can survive the event.”

Researchers have been exploring the use of drones to deliver emergency medical supplies for some time: For instance, last year, researchers from the University of Toronto explored the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver defibrillators to homes. Additionally, back in 2014, a graduate student at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands created a prototype of a drone that can bring emergency medical supplies to a patient in need.

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