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Medical Drone Usage to Reach New Heights in 2019 and Beyond

In 2019 drone usage will continue on its path to widespread commercial use, as a viable and infinitely useful tool across many industries. While often drones simply function as a useful tool, such as gathering aerial data on construction sites, drones are poised to save lives in the healthcare industry.

Fundamentally, drones solve two crucial problems in the access to healthcare: providing care that transcends the typical human limits of both distance and speed.

In their 2017 70-page hardcover publication, “The Future of Medicine”, The Jacobs Institute details how drones could change the landscape of trauma care. The “National gold standard of ambulance response time is to arrive within 8 minutes”. Despite this standard, emergency medical service often takes up to 33 minutes for help to arrive on the scene when trauma occurs.

Most of the time this delay can be checked off as a mere inconvenience; sometimes a few minutes can be the difference between life and death. After a shooting occurred in San Diego’s City Heights, first responders weren’t able to arrive to help gunshot victims until 12 minutes past the initial 911 call, resulting in one patient dying from blood loss in the ambulance. According to a 2018 NHS study, thousands of patients die every year from ambulance delays, with some hospitals reporting delays in up to 88% of their ambulance pick-ups.

In “The Future of Medicine”, The Jacobs Institute illustrates an entirely new medical response, christened “the golden half hour”, which utilizes the speed of medical drones as a central function.

A compressed version of the EMS example runs as follows.

  • A gun fires, injuring a victim.
  • Acoustic sound sensors positioned around the town pick up on the sound signature of the gunshot and alert the city’s EMR team. Medical drones are dispatched on scene and immediately begin feeding video of the incident to ambulance staff and law enforcement. First responders can formulate a plan of action before arriving on scene.
  • Once the patient is brought into the ambulance, the patient’s medical information is lifted and automatically electronically conveyed to the nearest biological bank.
  • Drones from the biological bank transport the patient’s own engineered immune cells and stroke drugs to the moving ambulance, ensuring that the patient receives the highest quality of care even before they reach the hospital.

While it may be many years before this utopian picture of trauma care can be realized, the “golden half hour” is a stark reminder of the capabilities drones present in the healthcare industry, where saving time is often a matter of life and death. With connected care continuing to expand among successes in telemedicine, health wearables, and more, drones can provide the necessary link between fast health data transmission and the physical care items patients require. The U.S. Federal Aviation administration approved 10 pilot programs for drones last year, one of which was Flirty, a company based out of Reno, Nevada which specializes in the delivery of medical supplies. In San Diego, the city plans to pilot a drone program in the delivery of blood and medicine citywide. As program approvals increase despite significant regulatory hurdles, we can expect more widespread use of medical drones in coming years.