Drones could reduce response times for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests by 16 minutes

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A study has shown that use of drones as first responders to out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) could reduce response time by over 16 minutes – the time that could critical for survival of the patient.

In the study published in JAMA, researchers simulated out-of-hospital cardiac arrests and dispatched drones carrying an automated external defibrillator to the location where the cardiac arrests were simulated. Researchers found that these drones arrived in less time than emergency medical services, with a reduction in response time of about 16 minutes.

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

Researchers performed eighteen remotely operated flights with a median flight distance of about two miles. The median time from call to dispatch of EMS was 3:00 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 vs 22:00 minutes for EMS. The drone arrived more quickly than EMS in all cases with a median reduction in response time of 16:39 minutes.

“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 in their study. “The outcomes of OHCA using the drone-delivered AED by bystanders vs resuscitation by EMS should be studied.”

Considering the case of US alone, out-of-hospital cardiac arrest has low survival (8-10 per cent). One of the most important factors that could increase this survival rate is thought to be reduction in time it takes for defibrillators to arrive at the scene. Drones can be activated by a dispatcher and sent to an address provided by a 911 caller and may carry an automated external defibrillator (AED) to the location so that a bystander can use it. Whether drones reduce response times in a real-life situation is unknown. Limitations of the study include the small number of flights over short distances in good weather.

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