Sweden bets on defibrillator-carrying drones to reach heart attack patients faster

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When an alarm sounds in Everdrone’s control room on the outskirts of Gothenburg, it means there’s a medical emergency and its remote pilots must prepare to send an automated drone buzzing through the skies.

Swedish drone developer Everdrone has been collaborating with researchers from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute and the country’s emergency dispatch organization since 2019, exploring the use of drones to deliver automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to patients on arrest. heart, wherever they are.

“An autonomous system that can start instantly and has no traffic issues will be much faster on the spot than an ambulance,” said Everdrone founder and CTO Maciek Drejak.

“You still need an ambulance to take care of the patient, but if we can deliver the AED a few minutes earlier, the payoff is huge. The chance of survival drops by about 10% per minute, so every minute counts. , every second counts, in fact”.

Traditionally low survival rates

Karolinska Institute associate professor Andreas Claesson says Swedish emergency medical services receive reports of around 6,000 cardiac arrests a year; only about ten percent of these patients survive.

About 70% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in private homes without a defibrillator nearby, he says.

“We know that if it’s possible to use an AED within the first three or five minutes, about 50 percent of all patients could survive,” Claesson said.

“So we have to find new ways to deliver the AEDs in the first few minutes.”

The process begins like any other emergency; calls to Sweden’s 112 emergency number are forwarded to one of SOS Alarm’s dispatch centres.

Approximately 3.4 million calls are received each year.

How it works

If call handlers suspect cardiac arrest and the patient is in the testing area, a drone is dispatched, along with more traditional emergency services.

Mattias Regnell, Head of Innovation at SOS Alarm, explains that the drone system is electronically integrated with the emergency dispatch system.

“When they put that pin on the map, the system automatically knows that in that area a drone needs to be sent,” he explained.

During a study that began in February 2020, a total of 14 suspected cases of cardiac arrest were eligible for drone delivery. Of these, drones were sent to 12 and AEDs were delivered to all but one.

“People are willing to help, and if we can just tweak the system to help our call takers, so passers-by often use the AED, then we’ll see an increase in cases,” Regnell said.

In most cases over the four-month study, the automated drone arrived at the emergency site on average about two minutes earlier than the ambulance, but those behind the project believe that it can reach three or four minutes earlier with some improvements.

Patrik Segerfelt, head of a participating dispatch center in west Gothenburg, said that even when the AED was not in use, he comforted people on the scene as he let them know help was on the way. .

“Someone said it was comforting to know, even if in these cases [where] it did no good other than to comfort the people there, because it was the first time,” he said.

“First before the fire brigade and the ambulance and the police. Then they knew that we at the triage centre, we knew where they were.”

The first successes of the pilot

Last December, the project had its first real success, when an automated drone helped save the life of a 71-year-old man in the Swedish town of Trollhattan, about 75 km north of Gothenburg.

Dr Mustafa Ali was on his way to work when he spotted the collapsed man in his driveway. He quickly diagnosed cardiac arrest and called emergency services.

“After about one, two minutes. I think (heard) something in the air, but it’s not like a helicopter, so I looked up and there’s a drone,” Ali recalled .

“At first I thought, there’s someone filming here, but at the same time [someone] from the alarm center said, “Here’s your defibrillator, so take it.” Okay!”

Everdrone says the time between the alarm sounding and the AED being delivered was just over three minutes.

Ali used the drone’s defibrillator and continued the defibrillation in the ambulance. The patient survived.

When delivering the DEA, the drone descends approximately 30 meters and then winches the package.

Limits

Those behind the project say the app is best suited to suburban areas, away from downtown hospitals.

While the drones are autonomous, remote pilots monitor the entire flight and obtain take-off clearance from local air traffic control.

Of course, flights are limited by battery and range. Adverse weather conditions, such as rain and wind, can also prevent some trips.

An ongoing follow-up study began in April 2021 and is expected to be completed this spring.

The service can currently reach 200,000 residents in Sweden and is expected to expand to other European locations this year.

Everdrone’s Drejak believes drones can be used in other parts of the emergency response, providing items such as EpiPens.

“I’m confident that this type of system will be part of normal emergency services in the future,” he said.

“I see a future where you have these kinds of systems basically everywhere, and there are obviously other things you can deliver other than AEDs that you need very quickly at an emergency site.”

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

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