Over the past few decades, there has been a trend marrying technological advancement with medicine, leading to more effective and efficient medicine. One of the most exciting recent developments that marries the two fields together is medical drones – automated flying drones that can deliver medicine and provide medical expertise to disaster zones or remote locations, where time is often critical in saving lives.
To help us decipher the potential benefits of disaster drones will be Dr. Imran Haque, an internist and general practitioner based out of North Carolina. At his Ashboro and Ramseur offices, Dr. Imran Haque has been seeing patients of over 15 years. His extensive experience will help explain why disaster drones can make medicine accessible in remote areas of the world and save lives.
The Faster and Larger Reach of Disaster Drones
The number one benefit of disaster drones is fast delivery of essential medical relief. Dr. Imran Haque points out that time is one of the most important factors in saving lives in some situations, and the medical drone could mean the different between life and death for victims of time-sensitive afflictions such as a snakebite or cardiac arrest. The good news is that medical drones are significantly faster than nearly all emergency medical response options available today. Medical drones are significantly faster than an ambulance, and can be customized carry enough medical supplies and instructions to treat up to 100 people at once. In fact, researchers found during testing that the disaster drones arrived faster than emergency medical services in all situations, with an average reduction of response time of 16 minutes. This does not take into the fact that the drone can often navigate to locations where local infrastructure is damaged or completely destroyed, such as remote wilderness, extremely rural areas, or natural disaster sites. The fact that drones are both faster and cover a wider area than traditional EMS means that it can arrive in time to save more lives than an ambulance.
How the Drone Works
The medical drone can be customized to carry different types of packages for different situations and can be guided to the location based on a caller’s GPS coordinates. Since the medical drones could have so many different uses, packages can range from treating one severely injured person to hundreds of people in a mass casualty event. Most packages will also include general medical supplies and an external defibrillator. Specialty packages can also be customized to provide specific antivenoms, of which time is of the essence. In addition, medical drones can also serve as the bridge between victims and specialists by providing eyes, ears, and voice to remote physicians so that the medical supplies can be used to full efficacy. Dr. Imran Haque points out that being able to provide medical expertise quickly and effectively in a disaster situation could make recovery much more efficient and cost-effective. By providing many drones, it can provide immediate relief and potentially lessen the need to fly out legions of doctors to aid, as medical expertise would already be present.
The potential reach of medical drones is limited only by GPS coverage in the world. The current goal is to have medical drones follow the GPS signal of a caller’s cell phone, so that the care package can be delivered precisely to the person in need. Since the delivery method is flight, it opens up the accessibility of medical coverage by a tremendous amount – people trapped in remote wilderness or living in extremely rural locations will be able to get access to key medical supplies and expertise.
Time is of Essence
Today, the response time of emergency services is one of the largest hurtles to saving lives. Within the U.S., ambulance response times can vary based on location since no federal law mandates minimum response times. For example, New York has stipulation that ambulances should arrive under 10 minutes whereas California strives for 12-15 minutes. There is wide consensus that the ideal response time is under 8 minutes, but the goal is missed almost 99% of the time. Dr. Imran Haque knows these response times are too long, as victims of time-critical ailments may already be heavily damaged in that time.
Dr. Imran Haque gives an example for somebody suffering from cardiac arrest: cardiac arrest victims can be saved by an external defibrillator, but brain damage can set in anywhere between 4-6 minutes. Advanced studies show that the chance of survival drops 7-10% every minute that passes without treatment, to the point where 10 minutes will mean nearly no chance of surviving. When looking at the minimum response times of New York or California, a cardiac arrest victim will likely have expired if the ambulance arrives at the tail end of the recommended response time. In a situation such as cardiac arrest, each and every minute is essential to saving the patient – a late response time could also mean permanent brain damage if the patient is resuscitated.
The Future of Emergency Services
Dr. Imran Haque believes that medical drones will have a place in the future of emergency medical response teams – simply because the benefits of being able to provide faster care cannot be ignored. In situations where the patient is hard to reach or has a time-sensitive disorder, medical drones will be a superior option than ground-based transportation or even a helicopter ride. When it comes to large-scale disasters, medical drones will also be able to provide near-immediate medical relief through supplies and an open line of communications to remote physicians. However, it’s important to realize that medical drones will not completely replace emergency response teams. Patients will sometimes need continued monitoring and follow-up care, which can’t be provided by a drone alone. In those situations, traditional ground-based support such as ambulances come into play. In the future, medical drones will be an important supplement to emergency response teams, as it is able to provide medical relief faster than any other system available today.