Drones in the medical field to impact future healthcare delivery

Drones in the medical field are fast modernizing the healthcare landscape with faster treatment delivery modes. The efficiency of these unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) has the potential to ease out the tremendous pressure piling on the global healthcare sector.

It is amazing that how drones in healthcare delivery are operating starting from supplying blood, provisions and organs and other services in no time helping in saving millions of lives. Realizing its far-reaching impact on future medical services, the healthcare industry is leaving no stone unturned to deploy drones for medical use.

Drones gaining popularity in delivery chain:

Vayu DroneImage Source : stonybrook.edu

These unmanned aerial vehicles have already created a sensation in the delivery chain ensuring smooth and fast delivery of goods from one place to another. The usage of drones in the medical field though not yet widespread surely promises better healthcare delivery.

Such is the popularity of delivery aiding drones that in January’18, the FAA (The Federal Aviation Administration) received more than one million unmanned aircrafts systems for registration. From the perspective of numbers, the same association registered only 350,000 manned aircrafts ever since the Wright Brothers aviation dream took off in 1903.

The integrated cutting-edge telecommunication facilities in specially envisaged hospital drones can also ensure successful delivery of medical supplies in remotely located medically underserved areas.

Implementation of drones in the medical field:

Several instances can be put forth highlighting application of drones in healthcare delivery.

  1. The Health Ministry of Rwanda in a tie-up with a private company has been transporting more than 5500 units of blood plasma and platelets to 12 hospitals with drones. About 20% of such drone deliveries are carried outside Kigali, the capital city resulting much less wastage of blood.
  2. In a novel way of revolutionizing women’s health and family planning in the African continent, the Dutch Government and United Nations Populations fund have successfully implemented a drone-based delivery pilot program flying contraception supplies to Ghana. In HIV infested Malawi population, HIV test kits are being flown through drones.
  3. Last year, the John Hopkins researchers achieved a breakthrough in making drones cover 160 miles of Arizona desert carrying 84 samples of chilled human blood. Throughout the entire flight duration of more than 3 hours, the payload maintained the required chilling temperature for the samples to remain viable for laboratory analysis.
  4. Tapping the engineering skills of local graduates, Nepal’s National Innovation Center (NIC), inspired by an award winning teacher, has successfully created a medical drone capable of reaching out to patients in distress with essential medical supplies.
  5. In 2016, for the first time in history, medical drones pervaded inaccessible Madagascar islands. They helped to collect blood samples from the inhabitant, which were then flown to the large central laboratory in a coastal city for laboratory analysis.

Hospital drones in emergency medical care:

Drones in the medical fieldWhat about pushing a button and you see a drone with the necessary medical supplies in front of you? The tech giant Google has patented a device capable of carrying life-saving equipments considering the growing concerns in the healthcare sector; an appropriate application of drones in the medical field.

The University of Toronto is conducting a research to deliver Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) by drones to the patient who has just suffered a heart attack. Such a case is time-sensitive and immediate treatment can save valuable lives.

Faster medical aid in disasters:

Natural disaster-induced medical care is toughest to address. The communication gets cut off and a huge population demands immediate medical supplies for survival. Drones for medical use were very effective in delivering small aid packages to victims of the Haitian earthquake in 2012.

The same life-saving operation by drones was seen with typhoon victims of Philippines in 2013. In a mass airport casualty event in Mississippi, two disaster managing medical drones delivered telemedical package and helped the rescue personnel in life-saving activities.

Improving vaccination rates:

A research report led by John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health holds the view that drones in the medical field have the possibility of improving vaccination rates and aid in various immunization programs held globally.

9 drones in the medical field set to revolutionize healthcare delivery:

 A list of upcoming drones promising unique healthcare delivery is given below:

EHang

  1. Zipline: This San Francisco based start-up has tied up with the government of Rwanda in conducting a trial for blood transfusion.
  2. Google Drone: A patented device promising quicker medical aid even before the ambulance arrives. It also allows the user to specify the nature of emergency through an app which would also display the ETA of the drone.
  3. Vayu Drone: Currently, in operation in Madagascar, this drone resembles a toy airplane. It is being deployed to collect blood and stool samples from remote locations and brought to the laboratory for further analysis.
  4. EHang : The first autonomously driven drone in the world that can fly a human body. Its objective is to enable smooth transportation of organs for transplantation during emergency conditions.
  5. Flirtey: Flirtey is an autonomous drone capable of delivering first aid kits and emergency medication. It has sought FAA approval for AEDs in suburban areas.
  6. VillageReach: A Seattle based global non-profit company in a tie-up with Silicon Valley Company Matter Net in its on-trial project is looking for transporting blood samples from remote country sides to large hospitals.
  7. TU Delft Ambulance Drone: This ambulance drone integrated with a cardiac defibrillator supported by a radio and video to facilitate two-way communication not only reaches the patient fast but also helps the nearby helpers/medical assistants providing necessary actions to start CPR and use defibrillator immediately.
  8. Project Wing: Worked by Alphabet, Google’s parent company, this medical drone would help in sending medical aid in disaster-hit areas. With FAA approval, the drone will undergo an all-out testing in one of their sites.
  9. Healthcare Integrated Rescue Operations (HiRO): Work is on to create a telemedicine equipped drone to deal with disaster aftermaths in a better manner on the US soil.

Challenges in implementing medical drones:

Drones in healthcare delivery may seem to be god-sent agents for the distressed souls but its limitations in payload capacity and flying capacity may restrict the service coverage. Furthermore, FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regulations can pose additional challenges.

Safety and accuracy in treatment delivery are more important than the mode since it is the valuable lives which are at stake. Coolers needed for preserving blood or organs in drones should function properly.  Regulators are likely to restrict drone movements in the air space preventing them going beyond the sight unless they are fully automated.

Challenges also exist in the emergency response workflow regarding effective communication from dispatchers helping the bystanders in unpacking the drone and operate AED as quickly as possible.

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