Coddington, Hicks & Danforth

Can drones be safely used to assist health care providers?

Drones have been criticized for causing accidents and injuries since their introduction in California. However, Palo Alto is evaluating whether they can harness this technology to save lives.

According to CBS News, the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is evaluating the city’s proposal to use drones to transport blood to a hospital during emergencies. Is this a step forward for health care, or could this proposal increase the risk of accidents in the city?

Understanding the benefits

With traffic, the hospital reports that an emergency blood delivery by courier can take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. In contrast, a drone can accomplish the same task in approximately 10 minutes. Blood can be delivered to patients in a fraction of the time, significantly benefiting injured persons.

Understanding the risks

While some are excited about the possible benefits that drones may bring to the health care industry, others remained concerned about safety. Currently, the FAA requires that all drones remain within the operator’s line of sight. To test this proposal, they would wave this regulation, allowing drones to complete their trip without direct operator visibility. Some concerns include:

  • Any technological glitches could cause the drone to hit homes or pedestrians in the path of travel.
  • Without an operator watching the drone throughout travel, there is no one to anticipate, identify and quickly correct any issues during flight.
  • Drones pose a risk to airplanes and are forbidden to fly near airports. Could this plan endanger helicopters taking emergency patients to hospitals and other planes in the area?
  • Can we trust drones to safely transport blood and other valuable medical supplies?

A relatively new concept, it will require much testing and debate before authorities determine whether drones can and should transport health care materials. While there are possible benefits, it is impossible to ignore the potential dangers.

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