Drones equipped with defibrillators beat ambulances in reaching cardiac arrest patients

Researchers in Sweden have demonstrated that a specially constructed drone carrying a defibrillator can be dispatched to reach a site of cardiac arrest far more quickly than an ambulance can.

Credit: Chesky/Shutterstock.com

A team of scientists from the Karolinska Instituet’s Center for Resuscitation Science showed the devices, which can fly at up to 50 mph unimpeded by traffic, could reach patients four times more quickly than an ambulance.

The drones, which were developed in partnership with engineers from FlyPulse AB, Trollhättan, were dispatched by alarm from Älmsta (Norrtälje municipality) rescue services and flown to a site within a six-mile radius that had previously been visited by ambulance on 18 occasions between 2006 and 2013 to attend to cardiac arrest cases.

As reported in JAMA, comparison of the drone and ambulance arrival times showed that the drones could be airborne within just three seconds of the alarm and took an average of approximately five minutes and 21 seconds to reach the scene, whereas ambulances took an average of 22 minutes.

“Saving 16 minutes is likely to be clinically important,” wrote the researchers.

Developers of the machines hope that bystanders could be guided over the phone by paramedics on how to apply pads to a patient’s chest and administer defibrillation.

In areas with longer ambulance response times of up to 30 minutes, the chances of surviving a cardiac arrest are tiny… Drones able to deliver defibrillators can reach the patient inside the first few minutes and are thus a new and important complement to existing emergency services.”

Lead researcher Andreas Claesson

Research has shown that for each minute that passes between a person collapsing due to cardiac arrest and their being defibrillated, the likelihood of survival decreases by 10%.

“With an early shock from a defibrillator within the first 3-5 minutes after cardiac arrest, up to 70 per cent of patients can survive the event,” Claesson says.

The study was funded by the Stockholm County Council Innovation Fund.


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