The Irish Medical Times - Drones in medicine


This story is remarkable and a wonderful use of technology. I imagine the ambulance service, equipped with real live people, were also winging their way in the path of the drone. We’re not all fortunate enough to have a doctor sauntering by as we collapse into our graves. If flying defibrillators become more commonplace perhaps it will be the forcing function society needs to encourage more people to learn basic First Aid. Not to mention, familiarizing folks with the appearance of a defibrillator to prevent the assumption the drone is merely swinging by with a late Christmas present. 

Drones were used increasingly during the Covid pandemic to deliver medication, vaccines, bloods, and diagnostic kits. They continue to bring relief and urgent aid to hard to reach areas, including water and snake-bite serum. We’re probably not far off routine medications being dropped to people’s doors, or bloods and organs transported between hospitals by drone. Although knowing the Irish health system, and given that we have no snakes in Ireland, I predict we will spend millions on a drone devoted solely to delivering snake-bite antidote. It will sit alone in a building formerly housing refugees and somebody will write a poem about it. 

On a more practical level, photographs or streaming video footage would allow the first responders/hospital to prepare more appropriately for incoming patients - particularly in the case of a disaster or major event. The drone could video its surroundings, covering as much area as required, it would allow for a tally of how many people are injured, how many look critical and where they are. Drones can find people in the dark through thermal sensors and night vision. A drone surveilling an incident could inform the emergency response and raise the warning if other areas/communities were at risk, such as a flood, fire, or gas leak. 

On the simplest of levels, drones can go where people can’t. If a road is now blocked because of a disaster or accident, a 12 foot ambulance may have a tough time squeezing through.

These flying robots aren’t confined to the outdoors, there may be room in the future for drones to hum along hospital corridors dropping medications to patients, ferrying blood samples here and there. Drones could take over from meals-on-wheels and drop dinners to the elderly or infirm. They could ‘check-in’ on people living rurally, at risk of falls, or with dementia, especially during winter. 

There are even drones with small manipulator arms that could give a person a glass of water, bring them their medication, sort through laundry, clean the house, listen to complaints, and give the world’s smallest hug (if it can make dinner, I think I found my soulmate). Apparently, the little manipulator arms also allow the drone to ‘clean a chandelier’ - if I am living alone rurally, on medication, probably elderly, possibly with dementia, presumably alone… am I concerned about the state of my chandelier? Of course, I am!

I read that in Japan and the UK there are drones placed in certain suicide hot spots areas. The drone monitors for potential jumpers by examining body movements (before they jump the person tightens and rocks their body in a certain way). The drone spots these people and a therapist talks to the person through the drone to try and help them. 

There are also drones that monitor situations where fights might break out, interestingly not necessarily used at football matches or places where emotions are high, but actually used by some schools in the UK where violence on school grounds is a problem. 

It opens up the possibility of many scenarios where monitoring a person's microexpressions or body language could predict something. Are people going to bring drones on dates with them and analyse the body language later? Will they be present in work meetings so people can replay conversions to catch looks and nonverbal cues that lead to decisions? Will we become like Philip Pullman's books with spirit animal daemons (the external physical manifestation of a person’s inner-self) - drones the size of a thumbnail hovering quietly over our shoulders capturing all that much needed ‘spontaneous’ footage for Tiktok etc - a step too far perhaps? 

Many people have grave concerns about the use of drones and their interference with civil liberties. The intended use of the drone seems to be the main bone of contention. If a drone is mass surveilling an area to monitor traffic, that is largely deemed acceptable. If the same drone is used to see how many people in the same area have moustaches, that is considered a breach of privacy. 

The rising generation are said to be less concerned with data privacy than their forebearers. They are growing up with social media, forever ticking ‘terms and conditions’ and accepting cookies (files cached on your device to note your specific preferences and sign-in data). Perhaps they will be less worried about the varied purpose of the drones and use them for their own convenience. Amazon is purported to have already purchased many of the sky lanes (roads in the sky to allow the safe flying of automated delivery drones).   

I imagine operating a drone will be a highly skillful job. The drone worker who will control and navigate the flight paths, including those inside a hospital, will surely be akin to an air traffic controller or pilot. It is very important that medical supplies are kept at certain temperatures and damage free. There may be a difficulty in balancing small and light weight payloads with high value medical contents. Not to mention the technology problem that still plagues all of our mobile phones - enough battery life to get us from A to B! 

I spoke to a commercial pilot with knowledge of the drone industry who felt the principal issue facing drone operators are the regulations. There are restrictions in place from aviation administrations, with particular limitations around night flights and operating in heavily populated areas. Sharing airspace with airlines is currently problematic and the potential for drones to be hijacked and reprogrammed. 

If we are all going to live in this augmented reality where drones are whizzing by our heads. Their flight path and landing zone would have to take into account their ‘customers’ head tilt, heart rate, blood pressure, expectations, reaction. So drone creators and operators will have to work with those versed in the physical and psychological impact of life with drones. Everybody from all backgrounds and all ages have to feel safe and comfortable with the drone. That said, we did all get our heads around the washing machine. Granted my washing machine doesn’t fly around the room, much. 

Drones gained fame in the military but are being picked up now by engineering, inspection, utility, mining, agriculture, real estate, infrastructure, wind farms, oil, gas, moviemaking, gaming, entertainment and retail, to name a few. Medicine, like all industries, will presumably embrace drones. To go where mankind cannot go, to do the impossible, to break barriers, save lives, and most likely to replace humans therefore reducing variability, cost and error. 

In my opinion, as long as we definitely get the snake-bite drone, we’ll be ok. 


Read the original article here - Drones in Medicine