Thanks to telemedicine, medical drones are one giant step closer to reality. A research team in Mississippi has created three prototypes of a medical drone that can fly to the site of a natural or man-made disaster while carrying audiovisual equipment and medical supplies. Once the telemedicine drone arrives, a remote doctor can see the patient’s condition through the webcam and provide first aid directions.
Drones have already been used to drop medical supplies to isolated regions of the world, but this program is the most advanced attempt to outfit drones with telemedicine equipment so that care providers and survivors can interact in real time. Several demonstration flights have been completed successfully, and inquiries are pouring in from other states and countries.
The project was inspired by the tornadoes that frequently tear through Mississippi and the delayed response times of the emergency medical responders. In some cases, the responders were slowed by fallen power lines, trees, and debris. The goal is for the medical drones to bring rudimentary emergency care and supplies to keep victims stable until medical teams can arrive.
Once in place, the telemedicine equipment will allow a doctor located far away to instruct a survivor to use the camera to show the victim’s injuries so the physician can assess the damage. He or she can also give instructions on taking readings such as blood pressure or oxygen level and talk a survivor through giving aid such as bandaging wounds or applying tourniquets.
However, one consideration that the project has not addressed is connectivity. The entire program depends on a successful live interaction between a physician and survivor; this typically requires a high-speed, reliable Internet connection. Unfortunately, the nature of disasters means that Internet cable lines and wifi hotspots are likely to be down—if they existed in the first place in these remote areas. So how can the medical drones connect to the remote doctor? We recommend using the DOT Telemedicine Backpack, the best tool we know for maintaining a steady telemedicine audio-video call in low bandwidths and unreliable networks.
To learn more about the program, visit The Gazette here.