Can Drones Slash Emergency Response Times?

John Commins, June 13, 2017

Study shows that response times plummeted when a drone carrying an automated external defibrillator was used for simulated out-of-hospital cardiac arrest episodes.

Someday soon, drones toting life-saving medical equipment and supplies may zip across the skies over the United States on missions of mercy.

A new study published this week in JAMA shows that a drone hauling an automated external defibrillator drastically reduced emergency response times by an average of 16 minutes for simulated out-of-hospital cardiac arrest cases.

Out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in the United States has a low survival rate of between 8% -10%, so reducing time to defibrillation is a critical factor for increasing survival. A 12 lbs. drone with a 1.7 lbs. AED attached was used in this study, which was conducted in Sweden.

The drone was activated by a dispatcher and sent to an address provided by a 911 caller so that bystanders could use the device, said study lead author Andreas Claesson, RN, of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm.

Claesson said it’s not clear if drones can reduce response times in real-life situations. To get a comparison with traditional emergency medical services response times, a drone was placed at a fire station in a rural setting outside of Stockholm.

The drone, which cost about $20,000, was equipped with a global positioning system, a high-definition camera and integrated with an autopilot software system. It was sent to locations where OHCAs had occurred between 2016-2014 and within a 6.2-mile radius from the fire station.

The drone used in the study has a range of more than nine miles, and is capable of speeds of up to 45 mph, Claesson said.  

Eighteen remotely operated flights were performed with a median flight distance of about two miles. The median time from call to dispatch of EMS was three minutes. The median time from dispatch to drone launch was 3 seconds. The median time from dispatch to arrival of the drone was 5:21 minutes versus 22 minutes for EMS.

The drone arrived more quickly than EMS in all cases with a median reduction in response time of 16:39 minutes, the study found.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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