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Drones to drop off defibrillators?

Friday August 27th 2021

A drone could deliver life-saving defibrillator to an individual with a suspected cardiac arrest quicker than an ambulance could arrive on the scene, Swedish research has found.

Dr Sofia Schierbeck of Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, is presenting findings of the first proof of concept study published in the European Heart Journal at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress.

The research was carried out in the Gothenburg city area in western Sweden within the controlled airspace of an airport to test the efficacy of drones.

In this study, between June and September 2020, three drones were set up in three different locations, each with a 5km radius flight range, and when a suspected cardiac arrest occurred in one of these areas, the dispatch centre also sent an alarm to the drone pilots at the control centre for the drones.

The drone pilot contacted the air traffic control tower and, if they approved the flight, a drone was deployed.

It was tracked by the drone pilot and when it arrived at the scene the drone descended to 30m altitude before an AED was slowly winched down. The bystander with the victim then retrieved the AED.

During the study period, 14 cases of cardiac arrest qualified for inclusion and a drone took off in 12 cases.

An AED was successfully delivered in 11 (92%) of these cases. The median flight distance was 3.1km and the drones arrived a median of nine metres from the victim and, in 64% of cases, about one minute 52 seconds before the ambulance.

In total, 39 cases were not eligible for inclusion in the study due to several factors such as rain, heavy wind, high rise buildings, and no-fly zones.

Dr Schierbeck said: “Unlike previous simulation studies, this was the first study to deploy drones with AEDs in real life emergencies.

“We have developed a system using AED-drone systems placed in remotely surveyed hangars, fully integrated with the emergency medical service, dispatch centre, and aviation control.

“Our study shows that it is not only possible but can be quicker than an ambulance. This is the first ever proof of concept and the starting point for the use of drones in emergency medicine worldwide.”

Although she noted that the drones in the study were unable to fly in rain or heavy wind, she added: “By 2022 we should have drones capable of flying in darkness and in moderate rain. Longer battery life could increase the flight range and the number of inhabitants covered by one drone.”

Abstract: Automated external defibrillators delivered by drones to patients with suspected out-of-hospital cardiac arrest

Tags: Europe | Heart Health

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