April 9, 2019

Out of the estimated 395,000 adults who experience out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) each year in the United States, only six percent survive to hospital discharge. Despite national efforts to improve this rate, it has remained unchanged for the past 30 years.

Dr. Wayne Rosamond

Dr. Wayne Rosamond

Wayne Rosamond, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health, aims to break that holding pattern by using drones to deliver automatic external defibrillators (AEDs). In a new article on, “The Case for Drone-assisted Emergency Response to Cardiac Arrest: An Optimized Statewide Deployment Approach,” published online April 5 by the North Carolina Medical Journal (PDF), Rosamond and co-authors Jessica Zegre-Hemsey, PhD, assistant professor at the UNC School of Nursing, and Brittany Bogle, PhD, research collaborator in the Department of Epidemiology, outline how AED drone deployment networks could double OHCA survival rates.

The researchers’ plan hinges on a public health gap: Evidence has linked rapid defibrillation with OHCA survival, but bystander use of AEDs remains low in part due to low AED placement and accessibility. For example, eighty percent of cardiac arrests occur in victims’ homes.

As Rosamond explained, “The overall goal of this work is to improve the chance of survival for those with cardiac arrest by increasing access to early defibrillation.”

Using mathematical models, Rosamond and his team estimated that a 500-drone network spread across the state of North Carolina would decrease the median time of defibrillator arrival from 7.7 to 2.7 minutes following a reported OHCA — even if fewer than half of the instances had a bystander willing to request and use an AED. Based on the models, survival rates would still jump from six percent to 13.8 percent if only 4.5 percent of OHCAs has a willing bystander.

The researchers proposed placing AED drone docking stations in Emergency Medical Services stations, first responder stations and fire stations — all government facilities currently capable of dispatching an ambulance or other vehicle equipped with AED.

Having demonstrated that drone-delivered AEDs could substantially improve survival at a justifiable expense, the researchers encourage their colleagues in public health to expand upon their groundbreaking feasibility study (and accompanying flight tests) by advocating for policy development surrounding drone integration into health systems.

The grant supporting this work is administered by the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill / the North Carolina State University Collaborative Translational Research Pilot Grant Program.


Contact the Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@listserv.unc.edu.

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