Technology for handling medical emergencies is reaching new heights with the use of drones to bring emergency defibrillators to patients in need.
During emergencies, these drones can cut down response times, arriving by air quicker than ambulances on the ground.
“Time is really of the essence here,” said Justin Boutilier, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “Survival from cardiac arrest decreases by between 7 to 15% for every minute that you go without treatment.”
Boutilier describes obstacles to emergency response —such as traffic or difficult-to-reach rural locations — as "the perfect storm." He has been designing a prototype drone that takes off as soon as someone calls 911.
“This is sort of like a perfect storm for a drone-based delivery system," he said. "They're able to, you know, remove the issues caused by traffic and things like that. So they're able to get these devices there much quicker than an ambulance could.”
The prototype is also equipped with cameras and a microphone, a feature Boutilier said could potentially allow the dispatcher to both see the scene and coach a bystander through the process.
Defibrillator drones have been used in places around the world, including several test sites in the U.S. and Canada.
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While these types of devices may seem new, but the technology has already saved a man’s life in Sweden, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The 71-year-old went into cardiac arrest last December while shoveling snow. He was resuscitated by a nearby doctor after a drone from Everdrone’s Emergency Medical Aerial Delivery service flew in a defibrillator.
"Given the success that we're seeing in other countries, I would guess through the next five years we'll start to see this [here]," Boutilier said.
To make the devices as user-friendly as possible, Boutilier said there are some logistical hurdles, such as restricted D.C. air space and flight regulations.
“I think there's also going to be some educational campaign just to get awareness out there that these are life-saving devices that, you know, they should be treated just like an ambulance should be,” Boutilier said.