Drones and defibrillators: Saving minutes to save lives

Cardiovascular disease, a term for a number of disorders of the heart and blood vessels, is a serious and steadily growing threat to global health, causing even more deaths every year than cancer. In the U.S. alone, nearly 660,000 people, or 1 in 4, die of heart disease annually.

In particular, cardiovascular disease can lead to cardiac arrest, a serious condition in which the heart suddenly stops beating. One of the most effective methods of treatment for cardiac arrest is an automated external defibrillator, which can not only correct an episode of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, but can restore the heart’s beating if it suddenly stops.

As with any medical emergency, time plays a critical factor and this is particularly true when someone is experiencing cardia arrest. Even a minute delay in defibrillation can leading to a 10% decrease in survival.

My guest today, Timothy Chan with the University of Toronto, is conducting incredible research exploring how drone technology can minimize delays in defibrillation for individuals in crisis, potentially even faster than traditional EMS can respond.

Let’s say you witness a cardiac arrest or you see someone collapse on the sidewalk. The first thing you’d do is probably call 911, then the 911 operator would send an ambulance, and then in drone-equipped jurisdictions they’d dispatch the drone as well. So you being the bystander are going to start doing CPR and the idea is that the drone gets there hopefully within a few minutes, which would be ahead of when the ambulance arrives.

Interviewed this episode:

Timothy Chan

University of Toronto

Timothy Chan is the Canada Research Chair in Novel Optimization and Analytics in Health, a Professor in the department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, the Director of the Centre for Analytics and AI Engineering,  the Associate Director, Research and Thematic Programming of the Data Sciences Institute, and a Senior Fellow of Massey College at the University of Toronto. His primary research interests are in operations research, optimization, and applied machine learning, with applications in healthcare, medicine, sustainability, and sports. He received his B.Sc. in Applied Mathematics from the University of British Columbia (2002), and his Ph.D. in Operations Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2007). Before coming to Toronto, he was an Associate in the Chicago office of McKinsey and Company (2007-2009), a global management consulting firm. During that time, he advised leading companies in the fields of medical device technology, travel and hospitality, telecommunications, and energy on issues of strategy, organization, technology and operations.