Drones have become one of the most useful technologies, used nowadays in everything from farming to photography to military operations to package delivery. The medical community is catching up too, with a new study looking into how drones can be more efficient than ambulances at saving lives.
Swedish researchers are studying how drones can be used to deliver defibrillators to patients suffering from life-threatening cardiac arrests. They found that drones are faster than ambulances, CBS News reports. But there are pros and cons, doctors say.
Cardiac arrest occurs when a person’s heart suddenly stops beating. Less than one in10 people live when this happens outside of a hospital. The researchers wanted to see if a drone was fast enough to come to the rescue with a portable automated external defibrillator (AED). The idea was that if a 911 call is put through regarding a cardiac arrest, a drone could be dispatched and whoever is on hand can use the defibrillator to shock the patient’s heart back to life.
The researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden sent a drone on 18 test flights. Equipped with GPS, an AED and a high-definition camera, the drone was launched from a fire station near Stockholm. The drone was sent to places where cardiac arrests had happened from 2006 to 2014, with an average flight distance of 2 miles.
From dispatch to arrival time, the drone’s flight was five minutes and 21 seconds. The average dispatch time for an ambulance responding to a real-life cardiac arrest was 22 minutes. The researchers said,
Saving 16 minutes is likely to be clinically important.
Doctors in the USA, while impressed with the idea, point out that there are some cons to drone assistance. Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said, “Many people without proper knowledge, awareness or training in how to apply an AED may be hesitant to help out, with critical minutes to spare before the brain is compromised.”
Glatter added that hands-only CPR is usually more effective for the majority of cardiac arrests outside a hospital, as survival decreases by 10% for each minute that CPR is not performed. “I’m certainly in favor of drone technology for delivery of AEDs to help reduce time to deliver lifesaving shocks, but we need larger studies to see if the time saved in doing so actually will save lives,” he said.
On the other hand, this might actually encourage people to learn CPR and use an AED, Glatter noted.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.