The Next Big Thing In EMS


Every few years some new technology comes along that promises to revolutionize EMS care.

Some of those work out really well. Examples are ETCO2 monitoring and CPAP, which revolutionized respiratory monitoring and CHF treatment. I’d place the 12 lead EKG in that same category. They had been around for decades in hospitals before they expanded out to the field, but when they did, they changed patient care for the better.

Some make our lives easier, but they aren’t revolutionary. Some of the newer devices for moving patients are career savers for EMS, but generally don’t improve patient care in and of themselves. I’d include the “geezer squeezers” from Zoll and Physio Control in that class as well. They don’t improve survival, but they reduce the labor required for cardiac arrest resuscitation, and may even improve compressions during patient transport. Of course, whether or not patients in cardiac arrest should even be transported is another topic.

Some seem promising, but the practical aspects of implementing them are very challenging, to say the least. I put “Stroke Ambulances” in that category. A unit that only operates within a mile or less of a hospital, does a CT of a possible Stroke patient, and if the CT is negative, requires transferring the patient to a different ambulance for transport is infeasible. That’s putting it nicely. I think ultrasound in the field might be in the same class, but it’s too early to know. Technology that requires interaction between the EMS crew and overworked, understaffed Emergency Departments (telemedicine) is also a non starter. I haven’t been in an ED in a few years now, but the last time I was there wasn’t a lot of staff to spare to sit in front of a monitor and direct patient care in the field. Often, there was barely anyone who had time to take a radio report from an EMS crew.

Which brings me to today’s topic.


Cool idea. A drone that brings an AED to the patient side. A couple of questions, though.

  1. Where do they get the “Average Standard Ambulance Delivery Time” of 22 minutes? I’ve never seen that statistic referenced anywhere, by anyone.
  2. What kind of weather can these drones fly through? I’ve never been to Sweden, but I’ve heard that it snows there on occasion. Other places have rain or winds. In fact, in my corner of the world last week we had wind gusts of up to 60 MPH.
  3. Who is going to fly the drone? I know that they could be antonymous, but someone has to equip it, maintain it, launch it, and of course recover it. Which means that someone has to pay for all of this. It would likely be far more effective to place more AEDs in places where there is a higher prevalence of cardiac arrest.
  4. Then what? In the second video, Dad wakes up, hugs his daughter, and then…? Takes her to the mall and buys her a really nice phone? Probably not. He still has to get to the hospital. The video and comments from the guy hyping the product (which we only see flying for a second or so) don’t mention that. Nor do they mention the importance of continuous CPR until the AED arrives.
  5. I see the patient in the fourth segment has Dextrocardia. Or maybe theĀ  person doing the animation has no idea about how to use an AED.

On to idea number 2. A flying ambulance. Great concept. Again, the question of who is going to pay for it comes up. For the million dollar cost of one drone, a service can put several ground ambulances into service.

Then, there is the question of crew. The drone beats that ambulance crew to the scene, then what? Who is going to put the patient on the stretcher, load the dronulance, and fly with the patient to a hospital?

Who is going to fly the drone? More importantly, who is going to pay the guy who flies the drone? What are maintenance costs going to be.

Speaking of who is going to fly the dronulance, I hope it’s not these guys.

Using a drone to deliver medication to remote, but not too far away, locations might have some utility. Again, assuming that the drone can fly and not be blown off course, run out of battery, or run into a stray utility pole.

I have no doubt that drone technology will improve, but I don’t know that it will ever replace anyone or anything in EMS.

Oh, by the way, the use of the term “Ambulance” implies that it has the ability to transport a patient to a hospital. Other than the conceptualized dronulance (maybe I should trademark that), none of these devices fit that description.

I wonder when some of this stuff will start to show up at EMS conferences and trade shows? Because you know it will.

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After a long career as a field EMS provider, I'm now doing all that back office stuff I used to laugh at. Life is full of ironies, isn't it? I still live in the Northeast corner of the United States, although I hope to change that to another part of the country more in tune with my values and beliefs. I still write about EMS, but I'm adding more and more non EMS subject matter. Thanks for visiting.