Drones carrying defibrillators could aid heart emergencies

Henrietta Brewer
June 14, 2017

YouTube videos, Amazon delivery, military operations, farming - you name it, drones are being used for everything from aerial photography and delivering packages to conducting surveillance and tending crops.

"I'm convinced that the possibility of using drones in medical emergencies is enormous", he said. Drones arrived at the scene of cardiac arrests nearly 17 minutes faster on average than ambulances in a study in rural Sweden. But the technology has pros and cons, say doctors. Cardiac arrest occurs when electrical impulses controlling the heart's rhythmic pumping action suddenly malfunction.

A new study published this week in JAMA shows that a drone hauling an automated external defibrillator drastically reduced emergency response times by an average of 16 minutes for simulated out-of-hospital cardiac arrest cases.

For the study, researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, sent a drone on 18 test flights. The 5.7kg drone was equipped with a global positioning system (GPS), a high definition camera and an autopilot software system. It was dispatched to locations where cardiac arrests had actually happened between 2006 and 2014. Average flight distance was around 2 miles and involved the drone going out of sight of the control room operator. The median time from dispatch to the arrival of the drone was five minutes, 21 seconds, compared with 22 minutes for the EMS ambulance.


A team in Sweden compared how long it would take a drone carrying a defibrillator to get to an emergency versus traditional services, like an ambulance.

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

But more research needs to be done before we start seeing AED-laden drones touching down at cardiac arrest scenes.

"Many people without proper knowledge, awareness or training in how to apply an AED may be hesitant to help out, with critical minutes to spare before the brain is compromised", said Glatter.


Drones are increasingly being tested or used in a variety of settings, including to deliver retail goods to consumers in remote areas, search for lost hikers and help police monitor traffic or crowds.

But survival rates for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest remain between 8 and 10 percent.

"Sometimes technology can outpace humanity". The Red Cross has a step-by-step guide to using an AED.

The most common cause of cardiac arrest is an abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation, in which the heart's electrical activity becomes disorganised.


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