Defibrillator drones: the new medical research that could save your life

Exciting new research shows CPR drones can take minutes off dispatch times

Over the past few years, remote-controlled electronic drones have brought a taste of the future to delivery companies, film crews, online retailers and even the average UK household. In the medical field, robotic devices are being tested and trialled more and more frequently, and it seems that drones were simply waiting to step in and take their turn. These miniature flying crafts have been the subject of an exciting research project, the results of which seem to indicate that the humble drone could even be responsible for saving lives.

In the recent study, the findings of which were published on June 13th 2017, the drone plays the role of paramedic, responding to emergency calls from cardiac arrest events. In a simple yet ingenious idea, the drone delivers an easy-to-use CPR (cardiac pulmonary resuscitation) kit to bystanders at the scene, shaving crucial minutes off the emergency response time delivered by ambulances. The recipient of the kit is then able to perform CPR whilst being talked through the procedure on the phone to the emergency services, or even through a radio device attached to the drone.

The defibrillator drone research has been carried out by staff at the centre for resuscitation science at Stockholm’s prestigious Karolinska Institutet, in partnership with Trollhättan-based drone development company Flypulse AB. The research team were motivated by the discouraging figures around cardiac arrest: for every minute that passes between the event of cardiac arrest and the administration of CPR, the chance of the patient’s survival decreases by a terrifying ten percent. Combined with ever-declining ambulance arrival time statistics, the team knew something had to be done.

Jacob Hollenberg, director of the centre, says “There’s a huge difference in using the defibrillator within the first few minutes. Even if you improve the timing of the ambulances in these type of situations, it’s too late - only one in 10 victims survive.” In a cardiac arrest situation, timing is absolutely crucial. The UK’s 8-minute response time target has long been a challenging benchmark for NHS paramedic teams, and employing a drone to fly the CPR kit to patients eliminates risk factors like traffic congestion that can so easily mean the difference between life and death for patients.

In Karolinska Institutet’s study, six separate drones were dispatched by expertly trained pilots, and were airborne within just three seconds. The drones then automatically flew themselves at speeds of up to 50mph to GPS coordinates in the nearby area where cardiac arrests had been reported over the past year. The drones reached their destination up to four times faster than the average time an ambulance would take - in under five minutes in most cases - leading to a median reduction in journey time of a massive 16 minutes.

So what does this exciting news mean? Lead researcher and trained paramedic Andreas Claesson says “This study clearly shows that unmanned aircraft, drones, show great potential in being able to deliver a defibrillator long before an ambulance arrives, particularly in remote areas.” This offers a substantial ray of hope to potential patients, as when CPR is administered within 3-5 minutes of the event then the result is usually survival.

Could we be heading into an exciting new era of drone-assisted medical attention? There’s room for significant expansion of this research - for example into providing assistance and emergency medical equipment at the sites of road traffic accidents, and even delivering life-saving medication to patients experiencing severe allergic reactions. With some of the best brains in the industry on the job, perhaps these exciting findings can be perfected and developed upon, and we can continue to combine human ingenuity with technological advances to create a safer world for us all.

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