Could Drones Deliver Life-Saving Medical Equipment In a 911 Emergency?

27 November 2016

Drones! They’ve been causing quite a stir in recent times. They are all over Hollywood blockbusters bringing down the bad guys or spying on the enemy. October this year even saw them dressed in ghost costumes flying around the sky in (frankly terrifying) Halloween pranks around the world.

So what technically is a drone?
A drone is technically understood as an unmanned aircraft or in the military as ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’ (UAVs.) Drones maybe controlled remotely or independently by on-board software and GPS systems for navigation.

The use of drones to save a heart attack victim
There are strict government regulations on the use of drones in urban areas and anyone who prefers their right to privacy can understand why. This is the main reason we don’t see drones used in everyday commercial operation.

However, we couldn’t help but look into how the medical profession could use drones in life saving situations. In 2014 Alec Mormot, an industrial design graduate at TU Delft University in Holland, first designed an ‘ambulance drone’ with a defibrillator built in to reach heart attack victims where needed on the basis that drones would beat traffic in urban areas and ambulance arrival times to people in remote places. An emergency number operator (already trained to guide civilians though emergency labour and CPR) would then guide the caller to effectively administer the defibrillator. Using a defibrillator isn’t too technical either and is covered in most basic first aid training.

In 2016 Professor Timothy Chan and a team of experts, Toronto University attempted to build on the Dutch idea to deliver automatic external defibrillators by drone to 911 heart attack call outs. Chan’s research suggested that as much as 85 percent of cardiac arrests happen outside of a hospital setting. His team studied ambulance response times to 56,000 cardiac arrests over a nine-year period and applied an algorithm to determine where to geographically locate drones to arrive faster than 911 responders.

He calculated that those drone locations would cut ambulance arrival time by more than 50% in 90% of cardiac arrests. This applied theory could most certainly be rolled out to any geographic location around the world.
It’s understood that a person’s survival rate drops up to 10 percent for every minute a defibrillator doesn't provide the lifesaving electrical shock needed to restart the heart.

Other lifesaving uses for drones
Drones could also be used in other situations where fast arrival times are key such as the delivery of emergency blood supplies or organ transportation.

On the 14th October 2016, the Rwandan government announced the launch of an emergency drone delivery service to transport emergency blood supplies to clinics in need. Moz Siddiqui at the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) described Rawanda as “…. the land of a thousand hills….” This initiative has proved successful so far reducing delivery turnaround from as much as a couple of hours to just 30 mins.

Lobbying of government and the implications of drones for commercial use
Obtaining government approval for drones in a service provider or commercial context has been attempted so far by the likes of Amazon in the list of commercial lobbyists.

It’s all a very exciting stir within the lifesaving medical arena. The concern is where would it end and the window of opportunity for the abuse or illegal use of drones used in residential areas.

What are your thoughts or insight into the use of drones in a medical emergency? I’d love to hear about them in the comment feed!

Nicola Lawler, Head of Marketing at Projectus Consulting