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Officials exploring whether AED drone delivery could work within US EMS system

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Posted at 11:19 AM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 14:20:18-05

For the first time, a defibrillator delivered by a drone has played a critical part in saving the life of someone experiencing a cardiac arrest.

Emergency dispatchers in Sweden sent the drone carrying an AED to a 71-year-old man's home after he suffered a cardiac arrest while shoveling his driveway.

It arrived in three minutes — before an ambulance could get there.

A bystander used the AED on the patient after providing CPR, which saved the man's life.

Doctors and researchers following the developments are hopeful the first successful case in Sweden will provide more momentum in the U.S.

"We have a very advanced EMS system in this country — 911 and sending ambulances to these kind of events and other kinds of trauma," said Dr. Wayne Rosamond with the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina. "So, how can we integrate drone technology? Not to replace that, of course, but to supplement that."

Rosamond is part of a team studying how drone AED deliveries could work. He says the U.S. has come a long way to make the life-saving technology a reality in the last few years. He says questions remain about how to implement the technology safely and whether the new systems are more efficient than the ones in place now.

Dr. Michael Kurz is an emergency medicine researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He sees the most potential for the technology in rural areas.

"The idea is that this could be immediately deployed and fly there and could get an AED inside the 10-minute window, even if that professional response still takes 30 minutes," Kurz said. "If there's a bystander there who will do CPR and get the AED there within that 10-minute window, then you're going to see real impact and folks surviving."

Kurz also sees potential in dense urban areas when an ambulance can't get to the victim because of traffic.

Experts say another hurdle facing the technology is regulation.

Rosamond says a few communities could try AED drone delivery in a year or so, but it could be years after that before it's more widespread in the U.S.

Until then, health experts are focusing on getting people to use the AEDs available now in public places. Anyone who witnesses someone having a heart attack should call 911. The dispatcher will provide CPR instructions that can be delivered in seconds.

There are also efforts to make the signs on AEDs more standard, so they're easier to find in a public place.