Drones Carrying Defibrillators Could Aid Heart Emergencies

Futuristic idea tested in Sweden

In a study involving simulated out-of-hospital cardiac arrests (OHCAs), drones carrying an automated external defibrillator (AED) arrived in less time than emergency medical service (EMS) ambulances, with a reduction in response time of approximately 16 minutes, according to a new study published in JAMA.

OHCA has a low survival rate (8% to 10%) in the United States, and reducing the time to defibrillation is the most important factor for increasing survival, according to the article. Drones can be activated by a dispatcher and sent to an address provided by a 911 caller, and they can carry an AED to the location so that a bystander can use it. Whether drones reduce response times in a real-life situation is unknown. Andreas Claesson, RN, PhD, and his colleagues at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm compared the time to delivery of an AED using autonomous drones for simulated OHCAs versus EMS ambulances.

A drone––developed and certified by the Swedish Transportation Agency––was equipped with a 1.7-pound AED and placed at a fire station in a municipality north of Stockholm. The drone was equipped with a global positioning system and a high-definition camera, and was integrated with an autopilot software system. It was dispatched for out-of-sight flights in October 2016 to locations where OHCAs had occurred within a 6.2-mile radius from the fire station between 2006 and 2014.

Eighteen remotely operated flights were conducted, with a median flight distance of approximately two miles. The median time from the call to the dispatch of an EMS ambulance was three minutes. The median time from dispatch to the drone launch was three seconds. The median time from dispatch to the arrival of the drone was five minutes, 21 seconds, compared with 22 minutes for the EMS ambulance. The drone arrived more quickly than EMS ambulances in all cases, with a median reduction in response time of 16 minutes, 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 authors write. “The outcomes of OHCA using the drone-delivered AED by bystanders versus resuscitation by EMS should be studied.”

Limitations of the study include the small number of flights over short distances in good weather.

Source: JAMA Network; June 13, 2017.