John Hopkins Medicine researchers have successfully figured out how protect medications, vaccines and blood during flights. Keeping these essentials cool could determine the outcome of the situation. This discovery will make it possible for aerial drones to transport life-or-death medical supplies between hospitals.
Amazon has been working on a plan to make parcel deliveries to customers. The company hopes to one day be able to offer customers 30-minute or less deliveries, utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles. Drone delivery will eliminate congested traffic areas, bad weather and the difficulty to access remote areas.
Bayview Medical Center director and pathologist, Dr. Timothy Amukele, spent the last 18 months perfecting refrigeration on drones, with a group of researchers. The research findings were published in the journal Transfusion in November, blood packed into refrigerated coolers during test flights did not reveal biological change. The test flights lasted around 26 minutes, covering 12 miles at 328 feet above ground.
Amukele went on to say that he hopes to begin sending lab samples and other materials between the Bayview campus and Johns Hopkins Hospital less than three miles away. Approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and buy-in from neighbors, who may hear the buzzing overhead, is still required.
He envisions delivering blood to first responders to natural disasters and accident scenes. Patients in a life-or-death situation could be saved, if the first responders can obtain the necessary medicines and supplies, this would be made possible with the fast delivery that drones can provide.
Medevac access is available to 90 percent of the country within 60 minutes. Local communities would likely embrace drones, if they are being used to transport life-saving medical supplies to patients in need, as they have supported helicopters. Drones are already being used to assess accident scenes and forest fires. Widespread use could raise security and privacy concerns, which has been an issue in countries where drones are used for military combat and surveillance.
The FAA now bans drones weighing over 55 pounds, flying faster than 100 miles per hours or higher than 400 feet. The agency also requires the pilot to be certified. Waivers are required to fly a drone over specific distances and areas.
Solving the refrigeration problem is a big step forward. However, there is the issue of drones crashing and missing their destination. These mishaps will not improve the patient outcomes or offer a cost-efficiency operation.
A group of Canadian university students are currently working on developing a system that would deliver AEDs to heart attack patients. This will allow the bystanders to initiate the treatment and save the patients life.
Doctors Without Borders are also contemplating the use of drones in the field. In 2014, the group worked with Matternet, a California-based company, to send sputum samples from patients with suspected tuberculosis from remote health care centers in the Pacific Island nation of Papua New Guinea to a hospital in Kerema. The group is also exploring ways to deliver results and treatments back to the centers.