Drones: Potential Life Savers?

Cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in the United States and worldwide. Research has shown that an emergency response lag of mere few minutes could mean the difference between life or death. While CPR has proven to be a life-saving human intervention in cardiac arrest in many case, the truth is that a defibrillator might be the critical life saving technique for some people. A new study has show that drones (yes, drones) could provide a more rapid emergency response for those experiencing cardiac arrest. In this study, researchers showed that drones would be able to transport a defibrillator to bystanders of cardiac arrest almost 17 minutes faster than an ambulance could arrive on the scene.

Technology has revolutionized how we deliver healthcare in the United States and across the world. At Pathways, we have seen the enormous benefits of electronic medical records for our patient care as well as the efficiency of video conferencing for our medical team, allowing for better communication among Pathways care providers. To think that we are a few years away from drones arriving at the scene of a cardiac arrest within 5 minutes is both exciting and overwhelming at the same time. There are surely unforeseen complications and certainly many moral issues that will be discussed if such policies ever do get implemented in a city or town somewhere in the world. But, if we flashback 20 or 30 years, the idea that we could access our medical records on a computer or discuss our illnesses with a doctor through a video screen would be incomprehensible and even more so, boldly disputed. As scary as technology may be for some, it continues to provide solutions in health care emergencies where a minute-faster response could save a life.

By Lindsey Tanner ASSOCIATED PRESS JUNE 13, 2017

CHICAGO — It sounds futuristic: a drone carrying a defibrillator swooping in to help bystanders revive someone stricken by cardiac arrest.

Researchers tested the idea and found tha tdrones arrived at the scene of 18 cardiac arrests within about 5 minutes of launch. That was almost 17 minutes faster, on average, than ambulances — a big deal when minutes mean life or death.

Drone-delivered devices weren’t used on patients in the preliminary study, but the results are ‘‘pretty remarkable’’ and evidence that the idea is worth exploring, said Dr. Clyde Yancy, a former American Heart Association president who was not involved in the study.

Cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death worldwide, killing more than 6 million people each year. Most cases happen at home or in other nonmedical settings, and most patients don’t survive.

‘‘Ninety percent of people who collapse outside of a hospital don’t make it. This is a crisis, and it’s time we do something different to address it,’’ said Yancy, cardiology chief at Northwestern University’s medical school.

The researchers reached the same conclusion after analyzing cardiac arrest data in Sweden, focusing on towns near Stockholm that don’t have enough emergency medical resources to serve summer vacationers. The analysis found an emergency response time of almost 30 minutes and a survival rate of zero, said lead author Andreas Claesson, a researcher at the Center for Resuscitation Science at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

To see if care could be improved, Claesson’s team turned to drones.

Drones are increasingly being tested or used in a variety of settings, including to deliver retail goods in remote areas, search for lost hikers, and help police monitor traffic or crowds. Using them to speed medical care seemed like a logical next step, Claesson said.

The study was done in October and published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More than 350,000 Americans had a cardiac arrest in a nonmedical setting last year, the American Heart Association says. The condition is often confused with heart attacks, but they’re different.

Heart attacks occur when a clot or other blockage stops blood flow to the heart. Cardiac arrest occurs when electrical impulses controlling the heart’s rhythmic pumping action suddenly malfunction. The heartbeat becomes very irregular or stops, preventing blood from reaching vital organs. Death can occur within minutes without treatment to restore a normal heartbeat, ideally CPR and use of a defibrillator.

The researchers used a small heart defibrillator weighing less than two pounds, with an electronic voice that gives instructions. It was attached to a small drone equipped with four propeller-like rotors, a global positioning device, and a camera.

They launched the drone from a fire station within 6 miles of homes where people had previous cardiac arrests.

In the study’s video footage simulating a rescue, a drone soars over residential rooftops and then lands gently in a yard. A man dashes out of the house, grabs the defibrillator, and carries it inside.

There were no crashes or other mishaps during the study, Claesson said. He plans a follow-up study to test drone-delivered defibrillators for bystanders to use in real-life cardiac arrests.

The test results show ‘‘a great potential for saving lives,’’ he said.

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