If you have a heart attack outside hospital in the future, you could be saved by a drone with a defibrillator attached rather than a conventional ambulance.
Swedish scientists compared the response times of a drone and an ambulance for 18 flights and found the drone beat the medical team by an average of 16 minutes, which could be enough to make the difference between life and death.
Reducing time to defibrillation has previously been identified as the most important factor for increasing survival in heart attack patients. Drones can be activated by a dispatcher and sent to an address provided by a 000 caller and may carry an automated external defibrillator (AED) to the location so that a bystander can use it.
Whether drones reduce response times in a real-life situation is unknown, though. Dr Andreas Claesson and team compared the time to delivery of an AED using fully autonomous drones developed and certified by the Swedish Transportation Agency. The drone was equipped with a GPS and a high-definition camera and integrated with an autopilot software system. It was dispatched for out-of-sight flights in October 2016 to locations where cardiac arrests within a 10 kilometre radius from the fire station had occurred between 2006 and 2014.
Eighteen remotely operated flights were performed with a median flight distance of about 3km. The median time from call to dispatch of emergency services was three minutes. The median time from dispatch to drone launch was three seconds. The median time from dispatch to arrival of the drone was five minutes and 22 seconds vs 22 minutes for emergency services. The drone arrived more quickly than emergency services in all cases, with a median reduction in response time of 16 minutes and 39 seconds.
"Saving 16 minutes is likely to be clinically important. Nonetheless, further test flights, technological development, and evaluation of integration with dispatch centers and aviation administrators are needed," the researchers say. "The outcomes of using the drone-delivered AED by bystanders vs resuscitation by emergency services should be studied."
Limitations of the study include the small number of flights over short distances in good weather.