Drones could become a vital asset for emergency medical services, after a study undertaken in Sweden found they resulted in a significant cut in response time to cardiac arrests.
In tests undertaken in an area near Stockholm, Sweden, drones were found to arrive an average of 16 minutes before emergency medical services (EMS). Once they arrived, the automated external defibrillator (AED) they carried could be used by a bystander, allowing treatment to be given far quicker than in conventional situations.
Out-of-hospital cardiac arrests (OHCA) are a serious problem, with a low rate of survival. In the US, for example, a patient that has a cardiac arrest away from a medical environment has just an 8-10% chance of surviving.
Time to treatment is an extremely important factor in this: chances of survival drop by the minute when patients are waiting to get help, so anything that can cut the time it takes to treat them with an AED has the potential to be hugely significant.
The research, which is published today in the journal JAMA, was conducted by researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and involved the use of a drone developed and certified by the Swedish Transportation Agengy.
The drone, which was equipped with an AED weighing 1.7lbs (770g), was stored at a fire station north of Stockholm. Equipped with GPS, an HD camera and autopilot software, it was dispatched for out-of-sight flights to carry the AED to locations where OHCAs had previously occurred, within 6.2 miles.
In all cases the OHCA the drone was responding to was simulated, but the 18 flights the research resulted in did demonstrate to advanced speed at which the drone could arrive versus the EMS.
From the time of the call the EMS took an average of 3:00 minutes to set off, but the drone was launched within 3 seconds from dispatch.
However, the real time savings came from travel distance. The EMS’ medium time to arrive from dispatch was 22:00 minutes, but for the drone it was just 5:21 minutes, giving a median reduction of 16:39 minutes.
The time reduction could potentially prove significant for sufferers of cardiac arrest, potentially making the difference between survival and death. However, the research is at this stage still limited, and far more will need to be done before drones become a standard part of emergency medical responses.
“Saving 16 minutes is likely to be clinically important. Nonetheless, further test flights, technological development, and evaluation of integration with dispatch centres and aviation administrators are needed,” the authors, led by Dr Andreas Claesson, wrote.
Then there is the matter of whether using a drone to equip a random bystander with an AED machine will be enough to ensure that cardiac arrest sufferers are given suitable treatment.
“The outcomes of OHCA using the drone-delivered AED by bystanders vs resuscitation by EMS should be studied,” the authors added.