With less than 10 percent of people surviving an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, the time it takes to get a defibrillator to a patient can be the difference between life and death. A new study from a team in Sweden has shown that a drone can transport an automated external defibrillator (AED) over four times more quickly than an ambulance.
From the Ambulance Drone to the Defikopter, we have seen several prototype drones designed for emergency AED transportation. Most recently, a Swedish start-up called FlyPulse developed a complete emergency service drone delivery system, and a trial study has just been released comparing its response time to that of traditional emergency medical services (EMS).
The study performed 18 flights, with a median flight distance of two miles (3.2 km) for the drone that is designed to be automatically launched from an emergency services call center. Across the test flights the time from dispatch to arrival for the drone was significantly faster than EMS. The median time it took for the drone to reach its destination was 5 minutes and 21 seconds, versus the 22 minutes for EMS.
In a letter published by JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the team from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden notes there are several hurdles still to be overcome before this system can be rolled out into public use.
"Further test flights, technological development, and evaluation of integration with dispatch centers and aviation administrators," all still need investigation, the team says.
The letter also notes that more investigation is needed into the efficacy of resuscitation by bystanders compared to resuscitation by EMS. This seems to be a fundamental challenge faced by any drone defibrillator delivery system and this recent study utilizing the FlyPulse drones does rely on someone at the other end knowing how to use a defibrillator.
Alec Momont from Holland's Delft University of Technology came up with a clever solution to this problem for his Ambulance Drone system that we covered back in 2014. It incorporated a webcam and loudspeaker allowing for an emergency operator to remotely monitor and instruct people at the scene.
Between public education and regulatory hurdles, it may be a few years before we see drones flying around delivering AEDs to patients suffering cardiac arrest, but this study shows that drones have the potential to arrive at the site of emergencies significantly faster than traditional EMS responders.