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Defibrillators delivered by agile drones could help reduce heart attack deaths

Drones could be used to deliver life-saving defibrillators to people in suspected cardiac arrest, as the devices in the air have been shown to be faster than ambulances to reach their destination.

“Drones delivered an automated external defibrillator (AED) just outside the door of residential homes, where most cardiac arrests occur, and also during the first minutes of cardiac arrest,” said study author Dr Sofia Schierbeck of Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.

“When a drone arrived for the ambulance, it was almost two minutes faster. As drone technology improves, it should be possible to increase patient numbers and time savings.”

Cardiac arrest is a life-threatening condition and is often fatal without CPR and an electric shock from an AED.

Every minute without treatment reduces the chance of survival and it is estimated that cardiac arrest causes one in five deaths in industrialized countries. Survival has not increased in recent years and the death rate is around 90 percent.

“Emergency medical response times are getting longer and people rarely have an AED at home,” said Dr. Schierbeck.

“We believe that new ways of delivering AEDs are needed to increase survival in these patients, so we conducted the first-ever study to assess the feasibility of drone delivery of AEDs to patients with suspected cardiac arrest out of the hospital. to investigate.”

The study was conducted in the urban area of ​​Gothenburg in western Sweden within the controlled airspace of an airport.

The usual procedure for suspected cardiac arrest outside the hospital is for a witness to call the emergency number (112 in Sweden) and alert the emergency room to the ambulances, who then arrive on the scene as quickly as possible.

In addition, in this study, three drones were deployed at three different locations, each with a flight range of 5 km.

When a suspected cardiac arrest occurred in one of these three areas, the control room also sent an alarm to the drone pilots of the drone control center.

The drone pilot then contacted the air traffic control tower and, if it approved the flight, a drone was deployed. The automated drone system was monitored by the drone pilot and when he arrived at the scene, the drone descended to a height of 30 meters before slowly hoisting an AED down.

Between June and September 2020, 12 drones were deployed in cardiac arrest cases and an AED was successfully delivered to the scene in 11 of them. The drone arrived earlier than the ambulance in 64 percent of the cases, on average 1:52 minutes earlier than the ambulance.

“Unlike previous simulation studies, this was the first study to deploy drones with AEDs in real emergency situations,” explains Schierbeck.

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

She added that one limitation of the drones used in the study was that they could not fly in rain or high winds, although she believes some of these limitations could be overcome next year.

In March of this year, mobile network O2 and drone company Skyfarer began creating the infrastructure for a new drone network in the UK aimed at facilitating rapid delivery of Covid-19 supplies and blood samples.

Drones were also used last year to transport PPE and coronavirus test kits to the remote Argyll and Bute Islands off the west coast of Scotland.