Drones carrying defibrillators could aid heart emergencies

Jane Richards
June 14, 2017

The analysis found an emergency response time of nearly 30 minutes and a survival rate of zero, said lead author Andreas Claesson, a researcher at the Center for Resuscitation Science at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

AEDs have simple enough instructions that just about anyone can figure out how to use them effectively, says Kurz, whose daughter has a congenital heart disease and is in fourth grade. Cardiac arrest may occur with no warning and is often fatal unless the heart can be restarted quickly. For the study, a drone was based at a fire station in Norrtälje, near Stockholm, and then was dispatched to locations within 10 kilometers where real cardiac arrest episodes had taken place in the past eight years.

In all 18 flights, the drone reached the destination more quickly than the ambulance, averaging a reduction in travel time of 16.5 minutes.

The team used GIS mapping to pinpoint locations that would be most effective for the test flights, Claesson says, and drafted predefined flight corridors that avoided flying over residents' homes until the drones were about to land in yards. Even though it could use Global Positioning System to fly on autopilot, a pilot was present at the landing locations and the dispatcher could take over the drone for descent if necessary.

Drone-delivered devices weren't used on patients in the preliminary study, but the results are "pretty remarkable" and proof that the idea is worth exploring, said Dr. Clyde Yancy, a former American Heart Association president who was not involved in the study. In half of the cases, the drone took no more than three seconds to take off after the emergency calls came in, compared with three minutes for EMS.

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The drones arrived about 5 minutes after launching - nearly 17 minutes faster than ambulances.

Limitations of the study include the small number of test flights, which were all done in good weather, the authors note. During the real emergencies, the median dispatch time for the ambulance was 22 minutes. "The outcomes of OHCA using the drone-delivered AED by bystanders versus resuscitation by EMS should be studied".

Still, he thinks drones could make a big difference in cardiac arrest survival odds.

But more research needs to be done before we start seeing AED-laden drones touching down at cardiac arrest scenes.

Every minute without CPR and defibrillation reduces someone's chance of survival by 10 per cent. Defibrillators are created to give spoken instructions so that anyone can use them, and many are available in public places.

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