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Could Drone Delivered Defibrillators be a Reality in the Near Future?

Published on 8th May 2022

There’s no doubt about it – the way in which we use technology has changed the way we view emergency medical care, making it possible to save more lives each and every year.

It may sound like the stuff of science fiction – but the use of drones to save lives has already begun after a successful trial in Sweden. Here we take a look at how technological advancements have enhanced emergency aid over the year – including this latest triumph, which when rolled out to other countries could save millions more lives worldwide each year.

How have technological advancements shaped medicine?

In medicine and healthcare technology truly has the power to transform lives and make treatment options more effective and palatable. There are so many different types of technology used in medicine and research – all having an individual impact on millions of lives. Some favourites at Lifecare include:

Healthcare trackers, wearables and sensors: Thousands of people now use their phones or a wearable device such as a smartwatch or FitBit to monitor their activity levels, heart rate, sleeping patterns and much, much more. Besides providing useful data for the user and enhancing personal health, these gadgets can also be used to aggregate anonymous data to stay on top of healthcare trends and identify new therapeutic or prescriptive lifestyle changes to combat major diseases. Specialist wearables such as intelligent glucose monitors have revolutionised the treatment of Type 2 Diabetes, monitoring blood sugar levels without the need for painful finger pricks.

Nanotechnology: Tiny devices that enter your body sound like the stuff of science fiction – but they’re already a reality, thanks to the development of nanotechnology. These incredible, microscopic devices enable direct drug delivery to certain parts of the body, targeted cancer treatment and could even enable surgery without having to make a single incision. Non-invasive smart pills like Pill Cam are already in use for colonoscopies, with remote-controlled capabilities becoming a real possibility in the near future.

Faster drugs trials: The process of developing medicines is still lengthy and complex – but specialists are working hard to bridge the gap, using a variety of techniques including in silico trials, which use virtual human biology as opposed to real humans to evaluate drugs for safety and efficiency, and the use of AI.

AEDs: Of course, we couldn’t complete this overview without mentioning defibrillators. Defibrillator technology has come a long way – once it was only available within hospitals and had to be manually programmed by a medical professional. Now, AEDs are widely available and can be used by absolutely anybody, specifically designed to enable members of the public to save lives. The development of portable defibrillators has also supported emergency response teams, who can immediately begin to work on an SCA patient when arriving on scene rather than wasting valuable time getting them to a hospital.

The future of technology in emergency aid

In the last decade we’ve seen defibrillators, ventilators and life support machines become indispensable – all things which previously seemed impossible. Technological advances continue to move quickly – where in the past we would see perhaps one or two new developments in this space each year, there are now hundreds of different digital breakthroughs making their debut and promising to save millions more lives.

How is drone technology saving lives in Sweden?

In January this year, Swedish tech start-up Everdrone completed its very first life-saving trial of the company’s cutting-edge technology, which uses drones to deliver AED equipment in the event of cardiac arrest. Their Emergency Medical Aerial Delivery (EMADE for short) service has been specifically developed to provide lifesaving medical equipment as quickly as possible – through enabling emergency dispatchers to send AEDs directly to the site of an SCA, often arriving well before an ambulance so that early intervention can begin.

During the four-month pilot study, 11 drones were successfully delivered to cardiac arrest patients. One of those, a 71-year-old man shovelling snow, was resuscitated by an off-duty doctor after the defibrillator was flown in, saving his life.

Everdrone CEO Mats Sällström explained: “This is an excellent real-world example of how Everdrone’s cutting edge drone technology, fully integrated with emergency dispatch, can minimize the time for access to live-saving AED equipment.”

Time is crucial when it comes to surviving SCA – a person is almost certain to die without defibrillation in the first 10 minutes – and with each minute that passes survival rates fall by 10%. Using drone technology to bypass delays ambulances and emergency response teams often face is an excellent way to reduce fatalities and make AED access and use much swifter.

Could life-saving drones come to the UK soon?

In the UK, ambulance response times vary greatly depending on area and demand. The average response time for an urgent call was around 7 minutes in 2021 – double that of the year before. For rural and remote locations response times can be even higher. With little to no time to spare when SCA occurs, close access to a defibrillator is essential in order to preserve a person’s life. As pressures rise on the UK’s ambulance service (and with around 30,000 SCA calls responded to each year) the EMADE service would certainly be welcome here and would be likely to have a positive impact on survival rates.

The EMADE service is currently available to around 200,000 residents in Sweden, but Everdrone representatives say that they plan to expand into more locations within Europe this year – which can only be a good thing for those who suffer SCA and survival rates, which remain low without defibrillator access.