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Case Study: Drones to the rescue - Airdropped defibrillators outpace ambulances in a real-world feasibility study

Nardev Ramanathan, Ph.D., Senior Analyst
October 21, 2021

Medical emergencies in a public location, whether it be a busy street downtown or a more remote setting like a national park, necessitate rapid access to emergency medical equipment. During a cardiac arrest, every second that passes without CPR or an electric shock from an automated external defibrillator (AED) lowers the chances of survival, while mortality rates for heart attacks far outside the hospital can reach 90%. Emergency response times are getting longer on average, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Asia, the growth of megacities and congested traffic conditions add to the challenge.


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A Swedish group from the Karolinska Institute conducted a feasibility study to see if drones can outpace ambulances in delivering AEDs to cardiac arrest patients and presented their findings at European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2021. The drones successfully delivered an AED in 92% (11 out of 12) of cases, with a high drop accuracy (the median distance from the AED to the patient was nine meters). Drones also outpaced ambulance delivery by at least two minutes. In situations like cardiac arrest where every second matters, two minutes can be the difference between life and death.

#LUXTAKE

Drones are used for medical supply delivery to rural areas in Africa and India, so their application in healthcare is not new. But drone technology for emergency healthcare services is a very specific use case and one that has not been well-explored. Drones also bring along a set of technical difficulties, including limited range, network connectivity issues, and regulations. In urban settings, there is also the risk of possible collisions with thin electrical wires on streets and hitting pedestrians, buildings, and vehicles. This study was also very small-scale, and more and bigger studies need to be conducted to investigate more routine deployment of such services. Clients with drone capabilities who are looking for healthcare applications should monitor for larger-scale studies and study the real-world challenges before proceeding further.

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