Saving lives is often a race against time. Diagnosis, treatment and recovery from illness or accident require swift attention and skill to ensure the successful rehabilitation of patients.
For hard-to-reach or under-resourced areas, a failure to receive the necessary medical attention quickly is often the biggest barrier to survival.
While this inaccessibility gap is ordinarily a concern for predominantly rural communities and underdeveloped countries, the recent life-saving measures given by way of drone to a man in Sweden reveal the wider-reaching need of innovative technology to provide critical care.
The man, 71, suffered a cardiac arrest in December while shovelling snow and collapsed in his driveway in the city of Trollhattan. A doctor, Mustafa Ali, who was on his way to work at the local hospital saw the man and rushed to help him.
“The man had no pulse, so I started doing CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] while asking another bystander to call 112 [the Swedish emergency number]," Dr Ali said. "Just minutes later, I saw something flying above my head. It was a drone with a defibrillator!"
After alerting the emergency services, an automated external defibrillator was dispatched using a drone and it arrived by the patient’s side in little more than three minutes. It was then used to restart the victim’s heart while they waited for an ambulance – the first time a life has been saved that way.
"I cannot put into words how thankful I am to this new technology and the speedy delivery of the defibrillator. If it was not for the drone, I probably would not be here," said the patient, who has since made a full recovery and is now back at home.
Developed and operated by Everdrone, a company that specialises in autonomous drone solutions, the company’s chief executive, Mats Sallstrom, said the defibrillator’s delivery was an "excellent real-world example" of how cutting-edge technology could minimise time required to offer life-saving treatment.
The company's test and development centres are located in the Swedish city of Gothenburg and focus on civil applications, primarily related to health care and emergency response.
Working in close collaboration with the Centre for Resuscitation Science at the Karolinska Institute, SOS Alarm and Region Vastra Gotaland, the operations are also supported by Vinnova, Swelife and Medtech4Health.
Everdrone says it has been scientifically established that the drone system can cut emergency response times, with the full study published in the European Heart Journal.
About 275,000 patients in Europe and 350,000 in the US suffer from out-of-hospital cardiac arrests each year, with about seven in 10 of them occurring at home where automated external defibrillators are not available.
With ambulances often taking long to reach the patient, the chances of survival fall by 7 per cent to 10 per cent with each minute that passes after the patient collapses, putting the survival rates for people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests at only 10 per cent.
Everdrone considers its "innovative" airborne delivery service of automated external defibrillators as a "proven method" to ensure patients receive quick life-saving treatment.
The company says its delivery service can currently reach 200,000 residents in Sweden. It expects to expand to more locations in Europe in 2022.