Drones Demonstrate Promise in Delivering AEDs for Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest, Pilot Study Shows


A pilot study found use of drones to deliver AEDs to patients with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest could improve response times compared to traditional emergency services.

Sofia Schierbank, PhD student at Karolinska University Hospital

Dr. Sofia Schierbeck

While it may seem like a concept from science fiction, a new study presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress 2021 provides evidence suggesting drones could have the potential to deliver defibrillators to patients with suspected cardiac arrests.

Lauded as the world’s first feasibility study to examine if drones could be used to deliver defibrillators to people experiencing out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, results of the prospective clinical trial suggest AEDs were successfully delivered in 92% of cases and there was an apparent time benefit compared to use of emergency medical services.

“Unlike previous simulation studies, this was the first study to deploy drones with AEDs in real life emergencies. We have developed a system using AED-drone systems placed in remotely surveilled hangars, fully integrated with the emergency medical service, dispatch centre, and aviation control,” said study author Sofia Schierbeck, a PhD student at Karolinska University Hospital, in a statement. “Our study shows that it is not only possible but can be quicker than an ambulance. This is the first ever proof of concept and the starting point for the use of drones in emergency medicine worldwide.”

Cardiology, in a manner unlike many other specialties, has always been at the forefront of innovation; particularly, when it comes to leveraging technology to improve patient care and outcomes. From wearables to mobile stroke units and, now, drones for delivering automated external defibrillators, the specialty is always searching to identify practical ways of improving care. In this trial, which was designed by Investigators at the Karolinska University Hospital, investigates hoped to determine whether AED delivery by drones in real-life cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest was a feasible approach.

With this in mind, investigators designed their study as a prospective clinical trial with 3 AED-equipped drones placed within controlled airspace in Sweden, which covered approximately 80,000 inhabitants over a 125 km2 area. The trio of drones used in the trial were integrated into emergency medical services for automated deployment in beyond-visual-line-of-sight flights in test flights from June 1, 2020, to September 30, 2020, and in consecutive real-life suspected out-of-hospital cardiac arrests.

The primary outcome of interest for the trial was the proportion of successful AED deliveries when drones were dispatched. Secondary outcomes of interest included the proportion of cases where drones arrived prior to conventional emergency medical services and time benefit versus an ambulance.

During the 4-month study period, a total of 14 cases were deemed eligible for dispatch. Drones were launched in 12 of these 14 cases. The median distance to location for these 12 dispatches was 3.1 km (IQR, 2.8-3.4). Results indicated AED delivery was feasible within 9 (IQR, 7.5-10.5) meters of the patient and delivery was successful in 11 of the 12 alerts. Overall, drones arrived prior to an ambulance in 64% of cases, with results indicated a median time benefit of 01:52 (IQR, 01:35-04:54) minutes in instances when the drone arrived first. Investigators noted a delivery success rate of 90% (n=55) in 61 test flights.

“Drone delivery of AEDs could be common practice in the coming years. It could also be expanded to other medical scenarios in the very near future, such as delivery of epinephrine to patients with anaphylactic shock or delivery of glucose to diabetic patients with low blood sugar,” Schierbeck added.

This study, was presented at ESC Congress 2021 as “Automated external defibrillators delivered by drones to patients with suspected out-of-hospital cardiac arrest,” and simultaneously published in the European Heart Journal as “Automated external defibrillators delivered by drones to patients with suspected out-of-hospital cardiac arrest”.

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