Drones join emergency care front line in Sweden with defibrillator drops

In one area of Sweden, 112 call takers will soon be able to dispatch a drone at the same time as an ambulance to drop a defibrillator near the patient if they suspect a cardiac arrest.
By Piers Ford
01:18 am
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Credit: SOS Alarm

SOS Alarm, the company that operates Sweden’s 112 emergency number, is to use drones to deliver Automated External Defibrillators (AED) for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests (OHCA) for the first time in a trial that begins in June.

The clinical study into the use of emergency medical drone transport for real incidents is the latest phase of a research collaboration between SOS Alarm, the Center for Resuscitation Science at Karolinska Institute (KI) and software company Everdrone.

It will focus initially on the municipalities of Gothenburg and Kungälv – a service area of approximately 80,000 residents – but the long-term plan is to extend the use of drones to more locations around Sweden.

The drones will complement existing ambulance dispatching, and be activated when a 112 call taker suspects an OHCA. When this happens, the drone will use GPS technology and advanced camera systems to navigate to the scene of the incident, delivering the AED exactly where it is needed – lowered by a winching device while the drone hovers 30m above.

The trial will run between June and September, when the results will be evaluated before further expansion.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT

According to KI, more than 6,000 OHCAs are reported each year, but only one in ten patients survive. The chance of surviving a sudden cardiac arrest is reduced by 10% for each minute that the patient does not receive CPR or defibrillation. The ability to send an AED directly to the location will help the 112 caller or other bystanders to initiate rescue efforts more quickly.

“It is fantastic that the collaboration between SOS Alarm, KI and Everdrone has led to the point where we can now deploy safe drone transportations that can save life,” said Maria Khorsand, CEO of SOS Alarm.

“In emergency situations every second counts. With the help of drones we can fly out medicine and equipment quickly and to more inaccessible locations, while waiting for the ambulance to arrive at the scene.”

WHAT'S THE TREND

Everdrone is one of only a few drone specialists anywhere to be given approval to conduct operations in urban environments. In this case, its drones will largely fly autonomously but will be monitored by a drone pilot – and by air traffic control at Säve airport, to manage any risk of conflicts within the local airspace.

The Swedish Transport Agency has authorised a special permit for the operations and examined the project from a safety perspective.

“The method of lowering the defibrillator from the drone with the help of a winch is something we have been developing and testing for a long time,” said Mats Sällström, Everdrone CEO. “We have performed more than 100 test deliveries in recent months, and the results show that the method works very well.”

ON THE RECORD

“We have, in previous publications, shown that drones have a big potential to be useful for cardiac arrest patients,” said Andreas Claesson, associate professor at KI.

“But this is most likely the first time in the world that with a Public Safety Answering Point [112], a fully integrated drone system is dispatched to the location of a suspected cardiac arrest as an addition to a regular ambulance. The strength is that this is done within the framework of a scientific clinical study, where we continuously analyse safety and feasibility.”

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