When it comes to getting emergency health services to cardiac patients, the fastest route may be as the drone flies. Recent studies in Canada and Sweden have shown some promising data with simulations of delivering care from the sky.
A Canadian study examined historical data on 53,702 cardiac arrests over 10,367 square miles of rural and urban regions surrounding Toronto to see if drones armed with defibrillators could be deployed to those patients faster than an ambulance.
In simulations, drones in urban areas yielded the greatest time savings of 6 minutes 43 seconds, and in rural areas the best times clocked got the drone to the patient 10 minutes and 43 seconds sooner than average 911 response times.
"Paramedics can take over after they arrive, but because survival from cardiac arrest is so time-sensitive, even defibrillating the patient a minute before paramedics get there can make a huge difference," Timothy Chan, director of the Center for Healthcare Engineering at the University of Toronto, told Reuters.
Researchers reached similar conclusions 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 under current conditions, said Andreas Claesson, a researcher at the Center for Resuscitation Science at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm and lead author of a study published in JAMA. The simulation showed drones arrived within five minutes of launch.
Drones have already proven handy in emergencies.
In the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, drones delivered small aid packages, and one trial used them to fly laboratory test specimens from a remote location to an urban testing lab.