Drones will deliver defibrillators to 911 callers to help treat cardiac arrest

Drones will deliver defibrillators to 911 callers to help treat cardiac arrest

A start-up called Flirtey delivers pizzas, Slurpees and other sundries by drone. But now, the company is embarking on life-saving work as a medical courier in the U.S., CNBC has learned.

Flirtey has formed a partnership with REMSA Health, a major provider of ambulance and emergency health services in the state of Nevada. When a 911 caller in the area reports symptoms of cardiac arrest, Flirtey and REMSA plan to dispatch a drone carrying a portable defibrillator to their home.

REMSA's Chief of Operations for Healthcare, J.W. Hodge, said they hope to reach patients in less time than it would take an ambulance and medics to cut through traffic.

"Many communities have done a good job of deploying defibrillators so you will have them on airplanes, in some office buildings and schools and so on. Yet they're not always within reach. At the same time, every minute someone suffers cardiac arrest without some intervention like CPR or an electrical shock, their chance of survival dips 10 percent."

Cardiac arrest, according to the American Heart Association, is the leading natural cause of death each year in the U.S., affecting more than 350,000 people every year.

Portable defibrillators, which weigh about 5 pounds, can be used by anyone and require no medical training, said Flirtey CEO and founder Matthew Sweeny.

After a Flirtey drone lowers a defibrillator on a line to a caller's home, a bystander will be able to unbox it and apply the pads inside to a patient's chest. The pads contain sensors that read what's happening with a patient's heart, and the system then determines whether or not they need an electrical shock. The defibrillator can either prompt a user to press a button, or automatically deliver a shock after a brief warning.

The drones will launch from stores that are owned and operated by Flirtey's commercial clients and health partners. Flirtey previously struck deals with Dominos, 7-11 and Napa Auto Parts, among others, to deliver orders to customers in the U.S. and New Zealand.

REMSA and Flirtey are working with local regulators in Nevada and targeting a start date in early 2018 for defibrillator deliveries. Sweeny said, "We're starting in Northern Nevada because the state is an FAA-approved drone test site."

Flirtey is not the only one working on medical drone systems.

A large hospital group in Switzerland has partnered with drone start-up Matternet to transport samples between labs and clinics. And UPS-backed Zipline has established a drone network in Rwanda to deliver blood to clinics that are hard to reach by road.

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