Drones are being trialled in Sweden as a way to get emergency medical care to patients who have suffered a cardiac arrest, in the precious window of time before an ambulance arrives.
The study has been trying to use unmanned aerial drones, fitted with defibrillators, to respond to 999 calls in rural areas 10 kilometres outside of Stockholm.
When people have a heart attack every second counts, as each minute reduces the chance of survival by approximately 10%, according to the British Heart Foundation.
And with only 8.6% survival rates in the UK – lagging hugely behind other developed countries such as Norway (25%), Holland (21%), USA (20%) – there is a huge need to help the 30,000 people who suffer an arrest outside of hospital every year.
Jacob Hollenberg, director of the centre for resuscitation at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, told The Guardian: “Cardiac arrest is one of the major killers in the western world. Every minute is crucial; I would say every second is crucial.”
When an address is given by the caller, the dispatcher can activate the drone, equipped with a GPS system and a high-definition camera, and then a member of public at the scene can use the device when it arrives.
Hollenberg says they are as easy to use “as a fire extinguisher” and you do not need medical training to deploy it on a patient.
The pilot program dispatched drones on 18 flights, and found that the median time from call to dispatch of the emergency services was three minutes compared with three seconds for the drone.
And the median time from drone dispatch to completed arrival was five minutes 21 seconds. During the real emergencies, the median dispatch time for the ambulance was 22 minutes.
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The drone arrived more quickly than the emergency services in all cases with a median reduction in response time of 16 minutes and 39 seconds over a median flight distance of about two miles.
However whether they reduce response times in real-life situations is still not confirmed.
The drone was developed by the Swedish Transportation Agency to carry a defibrillator with a maximum cruising speed of 47mph.
One obstacle to the plans could be that laws in the UK currently require drones to be operated within sight.
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