January 7, 2022 - Parul Saini, Webmedy Team
Updated Version - July 28, 2023
We have seen how Covid-19 has influenced the healthcare sector. It has triggered a rapid expansion in health technology - some obvious, like the rise of telemedicine or at-home lab tests, others filled a much-needed immediate void.
The demand for safe and quick solutions has raised the development of robotic support in hospitals and - drones. Drones or we can say Unmanned Aerial vehicles (UAVs) have assisted retailers around the world, who aim to use the technology for delivering packages at record speeds. Drones are now not only used for delivering packages and goods, but they are providing solutions in the medical world also.
Medical drones are considered as the future of disaster relief since they can easily travel to isolated areas carrying life-saving supplies. They have allowed healthcare professionals and blood bank operators to save lives and improve their medical services as well.
How Drones are Transforming Healthcare?
Drones are small rotary winged aircraft, which can be programmed to fly routes or controlled remotely. They contain GPS sensors, are powered by lithium batteries and include brushless motors that prolong the life of the aircraft. Drones can also be configured to carry small packages, which include communication devices and cameras. They can fly uninterrupted for an hour and have a maximum range of 60 miles, which enables them to reach isolated areas quickly.
There are a lot of exciting possibilities when you combine medicine with drones. We have listed some use cases of drones in healthcare here:
- Drones can be used to deliver Hazardous material and Blood products.
- Drones can increase the accessibility to, and speed of delivery for, life-saving medications and vaccines.
- One of the biggest use cases for drones is in diagnostics. Some diagnostic tests are time and temperature-sensitive, so when a sample is taken from a patient, it has to be sent to the lab and the test must be performed within a specific timeframe, which may be as short as 2 hours.
- Drones can be used to transfer organs from donor to patient, often between 4-36 hours depending on the organ type. Drones can make organ delivery faster, safer, and more cost-effective.
- Drones transfer small medical devices like automated external defibrillators (AEDs).
How Covid-19 has accelerated the use of Drones in Healthcare?
COVID-19 has accelerated some aspects of healthcare delivery by drone. Things that probably wouldn't have even been thought of maybe a year ago, are now being piloted or put into action, such as the use of drones for medical transport. Now drones are used to deliver vaccines with some medical partners in remote areas as it is the cheapest and safest solution. During the pandemic, drones have been a proven vehicle for delivering vaccines, food, medications, and messages, among other items.
Disinfecting and Sanitizing with the help of Drones
Another field where drones could add substantial value is disinfection. Sanitizing convention centers, entertainment, or sports venues with safe disinfectants enables us to get back to our lives and enjoy the safety of clean surfaces.
A team of scientists from the National University of Ireland Galway's Health Innovation via Engineering (HIVE) lab has developed a drone that is capable of emitting ultraviolet (UV) light to sterilize surfaces in public places amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This device is developed to disinfect public places like restaurants, hospital wards, shopping centers, and airports. With the help of AI algorithms, the drone can emit the microorganism-killing light, which is dangerous for humans, over predetermined locations and times - generally at night and when the space is unoccupied.
These are just a few examples of how drones are changing the face of healthcare. As the technology becomes more sophisticated and the capabilities enhanced, it is safe to say drones will play a larger role in the healthcare industry, lightening the load on overtaxed healthcare workers. Medical companies around the world see the value and want to play some role in evolving the medical drone field. Drones hold the potential to completely revolutionize medical care, and it is safe to assume the future of healthcare is bright.
What are the potential uses of drones in healthcare?
Drones in healthcare have a multitude of uses, from delivering medication to remote locations, transporting medical supplies between hospitals, to aiding in disaster relief situations. These unmanned aerial vehicles can often reach areas where conventional transportation cannot, which can be life-saving in many situations.
How are drones transforming emergency healthcare services?
Drones are revolutionizing emergency healthcare by providing rapid response to emergencies. They can deliver automated external defibrillators (AEDs) faster than an ambulance, which could significantly increase survival rates in cardiac arrest cases. Moreover, they can provide live video feeds, helping healthcare professionals assess situations remotely.
Can drones deliver medications and vaccines?
Yes, drones are being utilized to deliver medications and vaccines, especially in hard-to-reach locations. They can bypass traditional barriers like traffic, difficult terrain, and long distances, ensuring timely delivery of essential healthcare supplies.
How do drones contribute to telemedicine?
Drones can significantly enhance telemedicine by delivering medical supplies and equipment to patients in remote areas. They can also collect patient samples for lab testing. This could mean that patients won't need to travel long distances for care, making healthcare more accessible.
Are drones used in disaster relief for healthcare?
Drones play a critical role in disaster relief. They can be used to survey disaster-stricken areas, identify victims, deliver emergency supplies, and establish communication links. This can speed up relief efforts and potentially save more lives.
How are drones being used in COVID-19 response?
Drones have played a pivotal role in the COVID-19 response, from delivering PPE and test kits, to spraying disinfectants in public spaces. They've also been used to monitor social distancing protocols and disseminate public health information.
What role do drones play in organ transportation?
Drones have been successfully used for the rapid and safe transportation of organs. They provide an advantage over traditional methods by avoiding traffic, reducing transportation time, and thus increasing the viability of the organ for transplant.
Can drones assist in remote patient monitoring?
While still in experimental stages, drones could potentially be used for remote patient monitoring by delivering devices that collect health data and promptly returning them for analysis. This could help manage chronic conditions and offer immediate intervention during health crises.
What is the future potential of drones in healthcare?
The future of drones in healthcare looks promising, with possible applications including precision delivery of medication, telemedicine advancements, regular health check-ups in remote areas, and quick response in emergency situations. However, this requires further research and policy support.
Are there any case studies of successful drone use in healthcare?
Numerous case studies exist showing successful drone use in healthcare. From delivering vaccines in Rwanda and Ghana to transporting lab samples in North Carolina, drones are proving their utility in a variety of contexts.
What are the limitations of drone use in healthcare?
Limitations include restrictive regulations, limited battery life, dependency on weather conditions, and concerns around privacy and security. However, ongoing technological advancements and policy discussions aim to address these challenges.
How can drones improve healthcare access in rural areas?
Drones can vastly improve healthcare access in rural areas by delivering essential medical supplies, vaccines, and diagnostic tools. This technology could revolutionize rural healthcare by overcoming challenges associated with distance and lack of infrastructure.
How are drones used for medical supply chain management?
Drones can streamline medical supply chains by ensuring timely and efficient delivery of supplies. They can transport medicines, vaccines, blood, and other medical essentials between medical facilities or directly to patients.
What role can drones play in epidemic outbreak response?
In epidemic outbreaks, drones can deliver medical supplies, monitor the spread, disinfect affected areas, and disseminate information. This can help control the outbreak and protect healthcare workers from unnecessary exposure.
How can drones aid in blood delivery?
Drones can transport blood products to hospitals, clinics, or disaster zones in a timely and efficient manner. They can also deliver blood to places where transportation is a challenge due to lack of roads or other infrastructure.
Are drones used for transporting medical equipment?
Yes, drones can transport small medical equipment, from diagnostic tools to portable devices like AEDs. This can be particularly useful in emergencies, rural areas, or disaster-stricken regions.
Can drones be used to combat public health crises?
Drones can be highly effective in combating public health crises by providing rapid response, delivering necessary medical supplies, and aiding in information dissemination. They can also help in monitoring and enforcing public health measures.
What are the regulatory implications for healthcare drone use?
Regulatory implications for healthcare drone use include the need for operational approval, adherence to privacy laws, addressing security risks, and ensuring safety standards. Regulations vary by region, making it important for healthcare organizations to understand local laws.
How do drones assist in healthcare during natural disasters?
Drones can provide immediate support during natural disasters by surveying affected areas, delivering medical supplies, and transporting small medical equipment. They can also assist in search and rescue operations, improving response times and overall effectiveness.
What role do drones play in mental health care delivery?
While drones' role in mental health care is still evolving, they can potentially deliver medications, therapeutic materials, or even therapeutic robots to individuals in remote locations. They can also facilitate tele-mental health services, making mental health care more accessible.