The advent of drones has brought about a large shift in the autonomous machine. While normally associated with aerial videography and enthusiasts flyers, drones are beginning to make an impact in the medical field.

Their ability to traverse over all sorts of terrains quickly with a high degree of accuracy, while allowing for human intervention are part of the reasons drones are easily assimilated in the military. Now, those same traits are being put to use to save lives rather than to take them. Here, we list down six ways how drones are helping to propel our healthcare standards—to greater heights.

Medical courier

Health Wagon, a clinic in Virginia, America has been using drones as a means to deliver medication to rural areas of the state for the past two years. Partnering with researchers from NASA, the team has been sending much needed medication to various rural areas of Virginia such as the impoverished Appalachian region.

The usage of drones is especially ideal in Virginia, where its mountainous geography with heavy snowfall is no issue for the drone to traverse. Additionally, the six-rotor drone is fully autonomous and is able to deliver up to 20 small packages all throughout the day. With the only restriction being the airspace authority of various countries, this practice may see more widespread usage in similar rural and geographically challenging areas.

Contraceptive shower

In an effort to deploy contraceptive measure to rural areas of Ghana, the United Nations has enlisted the help of a five-foot-wide unmanned drone to air drop condom, birth control and other medical supplies over rural areas. Ordinarily, the offbeat locations of medical supplies already makes them greatly inaccessible – it takes up to two days to deliver using conventional means of transport. 

The problem is exacerbated by natural disasters such as floods which entirely block off road access. With drones, the delivery can be made in 30 minutes. Due to the success of the programme, there are now plans for expansion to other African countries.

Aerial blood samples

In Malawai, Unicef has begun to use an unmanned drone for rapid transport of blood samples for HIV tests. While this may not sound like much initially, the ability to diagnose HIV infection in children could be the difference between life and death.

Often requiring immediate diagnostics and treatment, blood samples have often been transported using motorcycles along rough terrain and roads. In comparison, the four-rotor drone employed by the Unicef can carry a payload of up to one kilogram and is able to traverse any terrain aerially.

Moving with the times, the drone also does not require a human operator and can be operated autonomously via a smartphone application. While cost is still an issue, operators believe that drones would yield better long term outcomes because of their lower maintenance costs.

Transporting augmented reality

Together with drones, augmented reality has been the other big technological leap of the 21st century. Now, a team at the William Carey University has been working to develop a system that would be able to merge both systems.

By getting drones to transport telemedicine tools such as Google Glass to the site of emergencies, doctors would be able to provide real-time feedback to bystanders on emergency medical care. The hybrid system shows a lot of promise. However, a great deal of development still needs to be done. This is especially since the official development of Google Glass has been halted for the time being.

Surgeon support

Partnering with the Government of Rwanda, the company Zipline, has been working to aerially transport much needed blood products to surgeons in 21 hospitals around the nation. In situations such as surgeries where time is of the essence, Zipline’s drone delivery system is able to complete its delivery in as fast as 15 minutes upon a simple order from a text message.

The system has currently completed over 350 deliveries to hospitals and is constantly working on improving coverage and frequency. The best part is, just like the other systems, geographical challenges are no issue to the aerial unmanned drone which operates 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Flying defibrillators

In situations where Automated Electronic Defibrillators are not available, drones have been found to be able to arrive 16 minutes quicker than emergency services. On a larger scale, this may not seem like a substantial figure. However, where cardiac arrests are concerned, every second is crucial.

Jacob Hollenberg, director of the centre for resuscitation science at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, mentioned “Every minute that passes from collapse to [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] or defibrillation, the chances of survival goes down by 10%. That’s why survival after 10 to 12 minutes is basically zero. There’s a huge difference in using the defibrillator within the first few minutes. Even if you improve the timing of the ambulances in these type of situations, it’s too late – only one in 10 victims survive”.

With a top speed of 75km/hour, the four-rotor Swedish drone is able to transport defibrillators to any location unmanned and accurately with the help of GPS guidance. Now, the only challenge that needs to be overcome is operating the defibrillators. MIMS

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