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Cardiac Arrest? Drones Might Someday Come to the Rescue
  • Posted November 6, 2023

Cardiac Arrest? Drones Might Someday Come to the Rescue

Drones might prove a feasible way to deliver lifesaving defibrillators to cardiac arrests in remote areas, a new research simulation suggests.

Delivering automated external defibrillators (AEDs) by drone could dramatically improve emergency response times in both urban and rural areas, according to findings to be presented Saturday and Sunday at an American Heart Association meeting, in Philadelphia.

The five-minute response time for AED arrival at a cardiac arrest improved from 24% to 77% for urban areas and 10% to 23% for rural areas, a computer simulation revealed.

“We were a bit surprised that the improvements appeared greater in the urban areas," said lead researcher Jamal Chu, a doctoral student at the University of Toronto.

"There's an historical inequity in EMS response times in rural versus urban areas, so we anticipated that drones could provide a bigger improvement in response times in rural areas and, thus, reduce that inequity,” he said in a meeting news release.

More than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside of a hospital each year, and the survival rate for these events is only about 10%, the American Heart Association says.

Shocking the heart back to beating with a defibrillator could save some of those lives.

The AHA estimates that a person's chances of survival can as much as triple if they receive immediate CPR, including the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) if needed.

But the number of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victims who have an AED applied by a bystander remains low, researchers say. Timely access to an AED is a major barrier, particularly in rural areas.

For this study, scheduled for presentation Sunday, Chu's team developed a simulation model that evaluated how quickly a network of drones could deliver AEDs to the scene of a cardiac arrest in 19 counties in North Carolina, compared to the response times of local first responders.

The analysis included nearly 9,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests that occurred in those counties between 2013 and 2019 -- more than 5,700 in urban areas and around 3,200 in rural areas.

Historically, average response times in the counties were about 7 minutes in urban areas and more than 9 minutes in rural areas.

On average, estimated response times would be reduced by 42% to 4 minutes in urban areas and by 24% to 7 minutes in rural areas, if drones were used to maximize delivery of AEDs, the simulation suggests.

Overall, a drone network would cause a significant improvement in response times in all 19 counties, for both urban and rural populations, researchers concluded.

However, Chu added that implementing such a drone program “will include many hurdles in terms of regulations, infrastructure and community.

“For example, we assumed whenever an AED was delivered, a bystander would retrieve it and apply it to the patient,” Chu said. “Community education programs would have to be integrated with a drone program to achieve this high level of use.”

More information

The American Heart Association has more about bystander CPR.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Nov. 6, 2023

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