Credit: Government Technology

The utilization of drones to transport medical instruments and supplies is the most recent development in the healthcare industry. According to simulation models, this new form of transportation could be significantly less expensive than conventional multi-tiered land transportation networks, with cost savings ranging from 20% to 50%. Drones also offer the benefit of being able to explore more remote regions and requiring less labor to operate due to their smaller size. Robert Brown examines how drones are affecting the healthcare industry in his article for the maker of medical batteries Ultralife Corporation.

Drones are proving to be quite useful in rural areas where there is a lack of access to healthcare and where there are no nearby major hospitals, such as in south-east Asian nations, particularly on their islands like Indonesia. The existing method of employing helicopters to transport medical supplies between islands is not economical and may result in some of the remotest settlements being overlooked because there are no nearby helicopter landing sites.

Given that they can be six times shorter in length than cargo helicopters, cargo drones are simpler to land. By dropping the load, which parachuted down into a three-meter-wide landing zone (an area ten times smaller than a conventional helicopter landing zone), fixed wing drones can also deliver medical supplies while in the air. Because there is a chance that the parachute will get tangled in the rotor blades, helicopters cannot drop supplies while in the air.

In the aftermath of an emergency when the terrain is rendered impassable, the enormous landing zone required for helicopters can provide additional difficulties. For instance, the Aran Islands in the Republic of Ireland were severely damaged by Hurricane Ophelia and Storm Emma in 2017, which both struck the area four months apart. It is therefore not surprising that the Aran Islands have been taking part in drone delivery testing, with the WINGCOPTER drone successfully administering insulin.

AEDs (automatic external defibrillators) have also been distributed to persons in need using drones. Successful trials were conducted in Sweden, according to The European Heart Journal, and in 63% of the cases, the AEDs arrived via drone before an ambulance arrived. Even one AED delivery, which arrived three minutes after the initial alarm was raised by a bystander, saved the life of a 71-year-old man.

Drones can be utilized for transferring urine or blood tests from residences to hospitals, assisting medical experts in diagnosing health issues more quickly in addition to giving medical equipment and supplies to individuals in need. For instance, the NHS has benefited from Neuron’s MediDrone initiative thanks to their assistance with UTI sample collection. UTIs are one of the most prevalent infections, according to the National Institute for Health Research, but before receiving medications, a doctor must examine a urine sample. Traveling to provide a sample could provide a challenge for people who live in remote locations or have other health issues. The diagnosis and prescription for medication can be obtained more quickly if one can be given from home and picked up by a drone.

Even between adjacent buildings in the same hospital, timely and efficient delivery is necessary because the samples themselves may be time- and temperature-sensitive. If this isn’t done correctly, it could significantly lengthen the time that patients must wait in the hospital, which could result in a rise in bed occupancy. Drones can shorten the time it takes to collect a sample while still ensuring the necessary quality control.

Even though there have been numerous effective pilot programs, there are still several obstacles to overcome before a more widespread use of drones is practical. Increasing the payload weight of a drone so that bigger quantities of medication or other medical supplies may be delivered will be one of the major problems (at the moment, WINGCOPTER has a maximum payload weight of 6.0kg). There are drones that can carry heavier payloads, such as The Griff 300, which can lift a person and support up to 226 kg, however the bigger the payload, the bigger the drone is, so you might require larger landing zones.

Also in Malaysia, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were used by Meraque Services Sdn Bhd to deliver vital medications to flood victims in Kuala Langat.

Tens of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes due to the flooding brought on by the severe rains, which also flooded highways, access to hospitals, and medical facilities, leaving many people stuck without access to basic necessities and medical care.

Four drones took to the skies for three days starting on December 22, 2021, under the direction of Meraque’s team of pilots, bringing vital medical supplies from Pharmaniaga to over 30 households close to Bandar Seri Ehsan, Banting. Drones covered 8.6 km in flight, which is more than 25 km if actual roads were used. The drones have a 20km range and a payload capacity of 15 kg.

Md. Razalee Ismail, the chief executive officer of Meraque, said: “When the flood occurred, we were approached by government authorities that were coordinating relief operations. When we came acquainted with our partner Pharmaniaga, they quickly sent out a team to assist with this. We would like to extend our gratitude to the relevant authorities, particularly the Malaysian Civil Defense Force (MCDF) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM), for their assistance in obtaining the necessary clearances and helping to ensure the safe deployment of our drones.

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