Drones first got their day in the sun when Amazon announced their use in commercial package delivery. This announcement opened up Pandora’s box for the use of drones in other fields as well. Soon they were being used for delivering food and aid to inaccessible, disaster-stricken areas. Healthcare, too, picked up on this extremely transformational idea and companies started to explore their possible use in delivering medications and blood samples. Here are 10 ways drones could change healthcare.
10 Ways Drones Could Change Healthcare
- Shower contraceptives over Sub-Saharan Africa: The U.N. currently uses five-foot-long drones to drop condoms to Sub-Saharan regions of Africa such as rural Ghana, where only a fraction of women has access to contraception.
- Deliver vaccines to poor and inaccessible countries and areas: New research published in 2016 led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center suggests that using drones to deliver vaccines in poor countries might result in reducing costs, in turn improving vaccination rates. According to the research, the price of routine immunizations is expected to rise by 80 percent between 2010 and 2020. One-third of this cost is attributed to supply chain logistics. Using drones for transportation would mean eliminating most of these logistical costs, ensuring that vaccines remain affordable.
- As a savior in time-critical situations: In April 2016, tech giant Google patented a new device that can call for a drone in case of an emergency with just the press of a button. These drones that fly in for medical emergencies are equipped with specific lifesaving medical equipment.
- In aid of heart attack patients: One of the 10 ways drones could change healthcare is by delivering Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) to patients in need. According to research conducted by the University of Toronto, 85 percent of cardiac arrests happen outside hospitals and, up to 30 percent of the time, the AEDs are locked inside closed buildings. TU Delft Ambulance Drone is a prototype that has lifesaving technologies such as an AED and Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) aids onboard. Upon landing, it is capable of instructing bystanders on how to perform CPR and instruct them on the use of AEDs until emergency services arrive.
- For delivery of samples to laboratories: Delivering samples to laboratories that are far away from the collection area is also vital to healthcare. Drones such as Vayu are now being used in parts of Madagascar to carry blood and stool samples for testing in the country’s central laboratory.
- To transport blood samples for HIV testing: In countries such as Malawi, one in 10 people is HIV-positive. However, the entire country has only eight laboratories equipped for HIV testing. In the past, reliance has been mostly on motorcycle drivers to deliver samples to the testing facilities, thus increasing the turnaround time in getting results. The use of drones in carrying these samples means the elimination of road travel, leading to faster results.
- To transfer blood for transfusion: In October 2016, a San Francisco-based start-up called Zipline opened its first operational site in Rwanda. According to the company’s website, it serves 21 Rwandan hospitals and provides access to lifesaving blood products for eight million Rwandans. Zipline promises to airdrop blood products in less than 15 minutes, a feat that once took hours through road transportation.
- To transport humans: According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as of June 2017, 117,660 people need a lifesaving organ transplant and every ten minutes someone is added to the transplant list. EHang and with Lung Biotechnology PBC have agreed to work together to create what they call the Manufactured Organ Transport Helicopter (MOTH) system, which stands to revolutionize the way organs are transported in the U.S. Once in operation, this system will help save tens of thousands of lives by performing on-time delivery of organs to people in need.
- As Healthcare Integrated Rescue Operations (HiRO): In areas hit by natural disasters, these types of drones can help deliver medications and lifesaving supplies to areas inaccessible by roads.
- To deliver anti-venom for snakebites: The small unmanned vehicles might also be used for the transport of expensive and rarely used drugs, such as anti-venom for snake bites.
It would not be an exaggeration to state that the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in healthcare holds great promise and will probably champion a future with cheaper and faster healthcare. Though this article states only 10 ways drones could change healthcare, the possibilities are infinite, and only time will tell how successful we in converting them to reality.
– Jagriti Misra