Drones beat EMS teams to heart attack victims in test

The program gave a glimpse into the possibility of hospitals using drones in the future.
By Tom Sullivan
12:31 PM
drones used in healthcare

Drones delivering automated external defibrillators reached heart attack victims as much as 17 minutes faster than emergency medical services teams in a small research program.

The eight-rotor drone was equipped with a GPS system, a camera and the AED. The aim was that a bystander would then use the defibrillator on the person having the heart attack.

Researchers conducted the program in Sweden with 18 tests pitting EMS teams against drones. Reacting to a 911 caller, a dispatcher activated the drone, or unmanned aerial system, and the median time from call to dispatch was just three seconds, according to results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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The median time for human EMS responders was three minutes.

With 55 out of every 100,000 Americans experiencing out-of-hospital cardiac arrest every year, and only an eight to 10 percent survival rate, the time it takes to defibrillate a heart attack victim is the single most important factor for survival, the researchers wrote in JAMA.

"Theoretical geographical information system models have shown that drones carrying an AED can reduce response times in rural areas," the researchers wrote in JAMA. "Whether they reduce response times in real-life situations is unknown."

That's an important point. The test results don't mean that by summer's end every hospital will have an armada of drones circling the skies, of course, but it does at the very least hint at a potential life-saving use in the future.

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