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Drones—Amazon is using them to deliver goods to customers’ doors within minutes, while military members are taking advantage of their surveillance capabilities.

Now, researchers in Sweden have determined another new practical and life-saving use for the tech product. According to a simulated study, drones carrying defibrillators arrived on the scene of someone in cardiac arrest much faster than emergency first responders.

On average, the drones arrived 16 minutes faster than emergency services, according to the team from Karolinska Institute, Stockholm.

For those in cardiac arrest, every minute that goes by without CPR or a defibrillator reduces the chance of survival by 10 percent.

In the U.S., this could affect the outcomes of the approximately 55 out of 100,000 people who experience out-of-hospital cardiac arrests per year. The overall survival rate of these events is worrisome—between eight and 10 percent, according to the study authors.

But reducing time to defibrillation is a crucial factor in improving chances of survival, the authors note.

Jacob Hollenberg, director of the Centre for Resuscitation Science at Karolinska, and fellow researchers conducted the simulated study in Norrtälje, an area north of Stockholm. They chose this location based on a few characteristics—such as restricted airspace, extensive delays in EMS response times and a heavy summer population.

The drone used for the study was developed by the Swedish Transportation Agency. It was equipped with the 1.6-pound automated external defibrillator (AED), which can be used by an untrained member of the public. The drone also had GPS, a high-definition camera and autopilot software system.

It was housed at a local fire station, and could reach speeds of up to 47 mph.  

The drone was dispatched 18 times over the course of 72 hours in October 2016 to locations where cardiac arrests actually occurred between 2006 and 2014. All the locations were within a radius of about 6 miles from the fire station.

Two licensed pilots navigated the drone—one from the firehouse, and one was positioned at the event location as a precaution in case the drone had to be manually driven. Dispatch times ranged from around 4 am to 7pm.

The median time from call to dispatch for emergency services was exactly 3 minutes, but for the drone it was just 3 seconds.

Additionally, the median time from dispatch to arrival of the drone was 5 minutes, 21 seconds, compared to 22 minutes for the ambulance.

This resulted in an average time reduction of 16 minutes, 39 seconds over a median flight distance of about 2 miles.

The study did not compare outcomes of those who had cardiac arrests and were given AED services from a bystander to those that received services from trained emergency personnel, but AEDs verbally walk through the process to make as easy as possible for untrained people to use properly.

A larger trial is planned for the future in collaboration with local emergency services who could dispatch the drone in real emergencies to further test whether it improves outcomes.

But before defibrillator-carrying drones can be implemented on a wider scale in Sweden and elsewhere, the team would need to get permission from aviation authorities. Currently, drones are required to be operated within sight.

But if proven successful, the drones could potentially be expanded to other emergency situations, such as severe allergic reactions, drowning situations or even roadside accidents.

The results of the study were published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

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