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Open Access Emerg Med


The use of unmanned aerial vehicles or "drones" has expanded in the last decade, as their technology has become more sophisticated, and costs have decreased. They are now used routinely in farming, environmental surveillance, public safety, commercial product delivery, recreation, and other applications. Health-related applications are only recently becoming more widely explored and accepted. The use of drone technology in emergency medicine is especially promising given the need for a rapid response to enhance patient outcomes. The purpose of this paper is to describe some of the main current and expanding applications of drone technology in emergency medicine and to describe challenges and future opportunities. Current applications being studied include delivery of defibrillators in response to out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, blood and blood products in response to trauma, and rescue medications. Drones are also being studied and actively used in emergency response to search and rescue operations as well as disaster and mass casualty events. Current challenges to expanding their use in emergency medicine and emergency medical system (EMS) include regulation, safety, flying conditions, concerns about privacy, consent, and confidentiality, and details surrounding the development, operation, and maintenance of a medical drone network. Future research is needed to better understand end user perceptions and acceptance. Continued technical advances are needed to increase payload capacities, increase flying distances, and integrate drone networks into existing 9-1-1 and EMS systems. Drones are a promising technology for improving patient survival, outcomes, and quality of life, particularly for those in areas that are remote or that lack funds or infrastructure. Their cost savings compared with ground transportation alone, speed, and convenience make them particularly applicable in the field of emergency medicine. Research to date suggests that use of drones in emergency medicine is feasible, will be accepted by the public, is cost-effective, and has broad application.

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