Mayo Clinic Investigates Possible Uses For Drones In Healthcare


Researchers with the Mayo Clinic have published a study investigating possible use cases for drones in healthcare. Commercial use of drones has seen its fair share of media coverage this year, sparked initially by an announcement from Amazon suggesting that it would begin exploring drone-based delivery options, and then reinserted into the limelight when the FAA published its regulatory guidance for commercial drone use. For now, drones are heavily restricted by the FAA and have limited use cases in healthcare, but the FAA has recently suggested that new regulations are in the works that will integrate drone operations with the existing National Airspace System, resulting in far more flexibility for innovators.

Anticipating this change, researchers with the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Surgery, led by But Cornelius A. Thiels, D.O. began exploring potential use cases for drones in healthcare. The team published its findings in the Air Medical Journal. For inspiration, the team looked to existing air-delivery operations in healthcare, and concluded that blood transportation would be an ideal home for drones in healthcare. Thiels reports that his hospital’s air transport team delivers 200 units of packed red blood cells and 200 units of plasma per year to surrounding rural hospitals. "Blood is unique because it’s expensive and expires — platelets and thawed plasma last just five days — and the supply is very limited. In our region, the smallest critical access hospitals stock just two to six units of red cells and no fresh frozen plasma or platelets," he says. Currently, these supply lines are supported by helicopter and ambulance transport teams, which are incredibly expensive in comparison to the cost of flying a drone.

The team also sees value in maintaining supply lines between large academic hospitals and surrounding rural hospitals to provide emergency access to certain medications, such as antivenin to treat rarely encountered snake bites. Also cited as a promising use case was the ingenious invention of a team of Delft University students that rigged a drone up with a defibrillator and a webcam. The team behind the project explains that patients with cardiac arrest have lower survival rates because they need to wait for an ambulance to arrive before life-saving services can be provided. However, by using drones to deliver a defibrillator, and adding a webcam to connect local bystanders with emergency medical personnel, treatments can be delivered in a fraction of the time.

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