Drones Now Transporting Defibrillators To Cardiac Emergencies

Drones have become vital tools for saving human lives. One of the main ways drones are being used to save lives is in the field of search and rescue. From a bird’s eye point of view, a drone can allow a rescue team to search vast areas in record time. Drones can even be equipped with thermal imaging cameras so rescue missions can be conducted at night, or in areas with limited visibility, such as a dense forest.

With the unique circumstances presented by COVID19, drones have begun saving lives in broader ways. They have been used to deliver life saving medications, PPEs, vaccines, and necessities like food and water. In August of 2021, a team of researchers published their findings on how drones can be used to save lives in emergency cardiac situations.  Research Affiliate Andreas Claesson from the Department of Clinical Science and Education at Sweeden’s Karolinska Institutet, first began exploring how drones could be used in emergencies in 2017. Andreas, who is also a paramedic, wanted to see if a drone could be used to deliver a defibrillator to a patient in need before an ambulance could arrive on the scene.

It can take an ambulance anywhere from 15-45 minutes to reach a patient. When a patient is in cardiac arrest, every second counts. Being able to administer CPR and use a defibrillator within minutes of an episode can mean the difference between life and death. Without being constricted to traffic on roads, Andreas proposed, a drone could reach a patient soon enough to deliver a life saving defibrillator. Partnering with local drone manufacturer, FlyPulse AB, Andreas had a drone built that could safely transport a defibrillator.

To test the drone, Andreas had it piloted along the same course that an ambulance had already been dispatched for cardiac calls. Andreas ran 18 different tests with the drone. The drone was able to successfully launch within 3 seconds of a mock call being sent into the dispatch location. Once airborne, the drone was able to arrive at the scene within 5 minutes. This was, on average, 16 minutes faster than it would take for an ambulance to travel. “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,” Andreas said.

The next step was to conduct trials in real time scenarios. Partnering now with Everdrone AB, emergency dispatchers, paramedics, highly trained drone pilots, and air traffic controllers, Andreas began testing delivering a defibrillator via drone to actual cardiac arrest patients. “This is the first time in the world that a research group can report results from a study where drones flew defibrillators to location of real-life alerts of suspected cardiac arrest,” Andreas proudly said.

The study took place over 4 months in 2 cities in western Sweeden. The drones were dispatched to 12 out of 53 cardiac arrest calls. For each call, an ambulance was also dispatched. Only once did the drone not succeed in delivering the defibrillator to the emergency site. 7 of the successful drone flights arrived at the scene before the ambulance. Though the defibrillator on the drones was not used in any of the tests, a job being reserved for ambulance paramedics as of now, it proved that they could get to a patient in record time to assist in saving a life.

Andreas and his team are now working to improve the model so that the defibrillator on the drone can be used. This includes streamlining launch and flight procedures. It also means developing a way to precisely guide someone who is not a paramedic to accurately use the device. But as Andreas said, “Every minute without treatment in the early stages reduces the chance of survival by around 10 percent, and that is why we believe this new method of delivery has the potential to save lives.”

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