Drones save heart attack victims, paramedics excited

Drones are being used to deliver defibrillators to patients in a successful Scandinavian trial, which showed they can get to patients faster than paramedics.

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have evaluated the possibility of dispatching drones equipped with automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to patients with suspected cardiac arrest, and report that in more than half the cases, the drones were ahead of the ambulance by an average of three minutes.

In cases where the patient was in cardiac arrest, the drone-delivered defibrillator was used in a majority of cases.

The Institutet, with Region Västra Götaland, SOS Alarm and the first responder drone developer, Everdrone, have been testing drones and AEDs since 2020, sending them out at the same an ambulance was alerted. The project covered an area of approximately 200,000 people in western Sweden.

“This shows (it) works throughout the year, summer and winter, in daylight and darkness,” says Sofia Schierbeck, Ph.D. student and first author of the study. “Drones can be alerted, arrive, deliver AED, and people on site have time to use the AED before the ambulance arrives.”

In the study, drones delivered an AED in 55 cases of suspected cardiac arrest. In 37 of these cases, the delivery took place before an ambulance, corresponding to 67%, with a median lead of three minutes and 14 seconds.

In the 18 cases of actual cardiac arrest, the caller managed to use the AED in six cases, representing 33%. A shock was recommended by the device in two cases and in one case the patient survived.

Read how they were thinking about emergency drones in 2015

The results have been published in the journal The Lancet Digital Health and interested the head of ther South Australian Ambulance Service, Executive Director, Critical Operational Services, Kate Clarke

“SAAS attends over 2,400 out of hospital cardiac arrests each year – that’s around 5 cases per day,” Clarke says.

Kate clarke
Kate Clarke

“We know that early access to defibrillators has the potential to increase survival, and it is great to see there are so many AEDs in public spaces and community facilities across SA, that are being used daily in an emergency.

“The introduction of drone delivery for Automated External Defibrillators is an exciting new development. Although their use is yet to be implemented in South Australia, we have recently launched other life-saving initiatives, such as the GoodSAM cardiac alert system.

“GoodSAM is a global alert system that uses a smartphone app to alert registered responders to nearby cardiac emergencies, and defibrillators, so that they can help while an ambulance is on the way.

“With thousands of registered responders standing ready to lend a helping hand during the crucial minutes following a cardiac arrest, the impact has already been profound — three South Australian lives saved and counting,” Clarke says.

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