The aviation sector – which air ambulance industry is a part of – is a huge contributor to CO2 emissions globally. In fact, about 2.5% of the global CO2 emission is attributed to the sector. Even more concerning is the fact that the impact of high-altitude emissions is twice as much when compared to ground-level emissions. Digital connectivity that provides an IP to each air ambulance can play a part in cutting down this carbon footprint. The technology, along with digital connectivity that generates and transmits data in real time, can make wonders. Let’s take a look how.
Better Air Ambulance Flight Planning
Turbulences owing to adverse weather conditions can cause a lot of fuel burn. They often necessitate emergency landings, change in altitudes, route deviations and so on. All of these actions cause fuel to burn at a higher rate. Imagine a situation where all this data is passed on to the air ambulance well in advance through a network of digital connections so that alternate flight routes can be mapped well in advance and seamlessly. It would also preclude the possibility of mid air mishaps and help in offering better service and comfort to patients onboard. Most importantly, it would bring down the costs related to fuel and also the associated CO2 emissions.
The Need to Carry Contingency Fuel
There is a direct correlation between the weight of an air ambulance and the fuel that is needed to carry it in the air. As a precautionary measure against unforeseen circumstances that can necessitate longer flight time, most air ambulance flights carry contingency fuel. This adds to the weight of the aircraft and in turn, burns more fuel. Data gleaned through connected devices and satellite imagery in real time can lift the veil off such uncertainties and lessen the need for contingency fuel.
Air ambulance services are usually viewed from a narrow lens. In other words, we associate medical flights with emergencies at a very granular level where individuals are rescued. We tend to ignore that they are a huge part of relief and rescue efforts at a government level across the globe. When natural calamities and manmade disasters are epic in proportion, air ambulances are the last hope for survival sometimes. Of course, they do not work in isolation and are a part of the bigger emergency response ecosystem. However, sharing of data, managing them securely and keeping the entire picture transparent and tamper-proof can be a challenge. This is something that blockchain technology can get right.
Blockchain Technology is More than Bitcoins
What most people fail to understand is that Bitcons or cryptocurrencies are just one application of blockchain technology. The real benefit is enablement of a system in which data flow is seamless, transparent and unchangeable. For large government organizations across the world, this is a huge plus because emergency situations are often soft targets for unscrupulous exploitation. Blockchain can keep make it virtually impossible for anyone to tamper with data and consequently the relief funds.
What is Blockchain Technology and How Can it Help Air Ambulance Services
We already know that blockchain brings to picture an immutable record of transactions. For air ambulance services, the biggest benefit is the trustworthy connection it brings to the emergency response ecosystem.
The answer to what the technology is all about: Blockchain is essentially a network that brings a large group together into a system where no change can be made in the dark. The only way to make a change is to make it apparent to the rest of the stakeholders in the network. Also, there is no going back to modify data. In all, this brings transparency to a group where the flow of information is truthful at all times.
Wearable technology can play a vital role in streamlining emergency services, especially when it comes to air ambulances. Imagine this situation: John is out on a mountaineering expedition with a small group of adventurers. Unfortunately for him, there is an avalanche and he is stuck neck deep under the snow. Injured, he is unable to move. The only thing that’s keeping him alive is the hope that air ambulances get to him soon, but he is not even in a position to make a call. Yet, it only takes 15 minutes for an air ambulance to be dispatched, and in the next 30, he is on an air ambulance. How was it all possible?
Wearable Devices Can Contact Air Ambulances
It sounds like science fiction that a simple watch or a device that you wear can actually call air ambulances during emergencies and that too without any intervention from you. How can a device so small be so intelligent? The answer: it is a mix of logic and technology. Here’s how it works – the wearable device continuously monitors the person wearing it. His vital signs such as his heart beat, breathing, temperature, etc, are monitored. When there is a drastic drop in any of the signs; for instance, heartbeat, the device requests the person wearing it to intervene. If he does not intervene, the device assumes that the person is in trouble and automatically sends a signal to emergency services for a response.
There is More to Wearable Technology
Let’s go back t John who is stuck under the snow. The biggest challenge facing air ambulances would be his location. Thanks to the device, it provides the precise location coordinates to the first responders. Not just that, it continuously sends across his vital signs so that they can gauge his health condition on an ongoing basis.
What makes the device so intelligent is a combination of sensors programmed to monitor the vital signs and its ability to communicate using mobile and cloud technology.
Several countries around the world have progressed much further than the United States when it comes to drones. Take for instance, the East African Nation, Rwanda. The country has been using drones in lieu of air ambulances to transport medical necessities during emergencies. Of course, these might not be as efficient as air ambulances yet, but the day is not far when drones would be much more useful. Rwanda is a country where roads are far from being ideal and drone technology is seen as a respite. Come to think of it, rural America too can benefit from this concept.
The Prevalence Gap between Air Ambulances and Drones in the US
The US skies are dotted with a lot of airplanes, which of course include air ambulances. The drones on the other hand can be a hindrance. In fact, there have been several instances where drones have proven to be a nuisance for air ambulances and commercial flights. The necessity, therefore, is for a regulation that strikes the right balance. Also, general drone enthusiasts should also proactively show more responsibility. The other area that needs a closer look is innovation in the field of medical drones where they can at least play the part of supplementing efforts of air ambulances.
The Government Encouragement for Medical Drones
The congress, at the present time, is in the process of considering a bipartisan legislature called Drone Backlog Reduction Act. The intent of this legislation is to encourage innovation and ensure safety of medical drones. Once that is achieved, it will become easier to get the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration to use medical drones more extensively. At the current time, the use of drone is also severely limited by the norms laid down by the Federal Aviation Administration. If all goes well, the people will benefit from innovations in medical drones immensely.
Bystanders are often left wondering how to handle emergency situations. If the medical necessity is grave enough to warrant a medical flight, live streaming the emergency situation to the first responders through video streaming can be quite helpful. With the connectivity and mobile enablement that the world enjoys today, making this possible is not a tough ask. All it would take is an app that covers privacy, consent and similar concerns. The chances of the injured or ill getting immediate help becomes easy. Bystanders can get instructions from qualified first responders.
Addressing the Privacy Concern
The app will certainly help the patients immensely; however, there can be privacy concerns. The solution – treatment, if needed, can be delivered after an expressed consent from the patient. Moreover, the video need not be recorded or stored on either ends, both the patient and first responders. In fact, the kind of application is already being used in United Kingdom. A dedicated solution like this to emergency response centers, can do a lot of good. Since every medical flight covers a huge amount of distance, people, especially in rural America, can benefit significantly.
The Need for Medical Flight Can be Gauged
In situations where there is no qualified medical professional to make a decision whether the patient needs emergency medical flight services, the mobile app can be of immense help. The ‘medical necessity’, which plays a huge part in insurance approvals, can be determined quickly and effectively so that the patient is free of such worries from the word go and where applicable, an informed decision can be made.
Integration of such an app widely is important. If each player in the medical flight industry comes up with a unique platform to execute this, it would be a disaster. What the industry needs is a common platform so that execution becomes easy.
Air ambulance services are dispatched only when the emergency is dire and time is of critical nature. Many a times, the only contact with a patient or a victim is over the phone. As a consequence response professionals in emergency call centers are forced to rely entirely on their experience to determine the condition of the patient. Most times, the patient himself is unaware what is wrong with him. For instance, a person having a cardiac attack might not even realize that he is having one. The response professionals are forced to rely on qualified guess work. All this can change with the introduction of artificial intelligence technology.
Offering Better Air Ambulance Services with Artificial Intelligence
Imagine a situation where analyzing patient condition is done by an algorithm that continuously learns by analyzing patterns in data. It eventually becomes capable enough of offering diagnostic suggestions based on the description of symptoms, speech pattern, breathing frequency, etc. It would go further prompting the response professional to ask the right kind of questions to aid in understanding what the patient is going through. Wouldn’t that be amazing? It is no longer a science fiction; this is now a possibility, thanks to artificial intelligence. If implemented, it can take air ambulance services to a whole new level.
How Does Artificial Intelligence Learn
As mentioned earlier, it is all about forming patters through a combination of cases. All that an artificial intelligence algorithm would need is call recordings made by patients to air ambulance services over a period of time. It would have been pre-programmed to find patterns of symptoms to come up with a diagnosis.
It is all about data and analyzing it. The added advantage is that this data becomes a ready base to study populations, injury patterns (especially in road accidents) so that safety measures can be bolstered to increase safety. The applications are several and are only limited by one’s imagination.
It is hard to believe that the future will see more efficient emergency transportation than air ambulances. However, it is true and that future is not very far. The advent of smart vehicles, autonomous driving technology, drones, electric power and the like are transforming emergency transportation today. In the age of patient centricity, the technology that suits the patients’ requirements will rule the industry. While vehicles capable of landing vertically will make a huge difference in treacherous plains, swiftly moving vehicles will be in demand when time is vital. Here, we take a brief look at the different technologies that are making waves today.
Flying Cars and Air Ambulances
Flying cars have been testing human imagination since the 1980s. Their biggest advantage is their ability to take off and land vertically, as well as the fact that they are highly compact. Now, with technology enabling efficient ground support, it will come as no surprise if we see flying cars being used as air ambulances. The other major advantage from the air ambulance service providers’ point of view is the ability to store or park these vehicles without much expense. The current system where they are expected to hire spaces in large hangars can be done away with if flying cars become a reality and can in turn bring down the cost of availing the service too.
Drones and Autonomous Vehicles
A lot of innovation and research has gone into autonomous vehicles and drones. In fact, a combination of these technologies can be quite exciting. Imagine a scenario where an air ambulance company dispatches an autonomous drone capable of handling heavy loads while controlling it remotely. There would not be a need for pilot. This will also make more space for the patient in the compact vehicle, where he or she gets all the life support required.
The technology that guides air ambulances will further improve as artificial intelligence, internet of things, big data and the like progress.
Imagine this: the medical flight has emergency personnel seated in it and is en route to pick up a patient in a remote area but there’s one crucial member of the crew missing. Guess who? The pilot! Yes, that’s right! The medical flight technology is slowly moving toward autonomous flights that are sans pilots. If this sounds like science fiction to you, here’s a surprise. SkyRyse, which is a Silicon Valley start up, is already testing autonomous helicopters in emergency settings. It is known to have carried police and emergency personnel safely in response to mock emergency calls and the testing will continue.
How Safe is the Autonomous Medical Flight Technology?
Experts feel that it is quite safe. It is believed that the flights use the same technology that is used in driverless cars. A combination of software and hardware that is continually monitored from the control room and a medical flight that is controlled by itself – that about sums up what this technology is all about. Although the technology is still in a nascent stage, it will make huge strides in the days to come. A lot of this technology’s development will depend on machine learning and artificial intelligence which will allow it to learn the nuances of flying without any human intervention.
The Factors that will Make this Technology a Success
Ask yourself this question, “Am I ready to take a medical flight that does not have a pilot?” Trust of the customers in the new technology is going to be a decisive factor. Then there is the cost. It is a tussle between the cost of acquiring such a technology and the return on investment that it ultimately brings. Will this new technology demand high maintenance cost? Or will it reduce it? Regulations are another factor. Innovations that have the potential to give rise to safety risks typically take longer to get government approvals. For now, it’s a wait and watch for all of us.
Search and rescue are an integral part of operations performed by air ambulance services around the world, especially when the terrain is tough to handle by ground rescue forces alone. All this could change with drones taking up the search part of the entire operation. This will be made possible by the drones designed by the researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, popularly referred to as MIT. Wireless communication and computation technology will form the basis of these drones. Although these drones are still in the concept stage, if implemented, they could supplement the task of air ambulance services effectively.
The Concept to Support Air Ambulance Services to be Presented Soon
The conference titled ‘International Symposium on Experimental Robotics’ will be the venue where the concept will be presented. The drones would be equipped with laser range finders and will be able to draw up a 3-dimensional map of tough terrain that will help air ambulance services. Among the key researchers of this concept is Yulun Tian who is a graduate student at MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
The Future of the Drone Research
Although not in the scope of the current presentation, eventually, the researchers hope that the drones will be able to tag the person in need of help in tough terrains. This will be made possible by object detection and matching it with missing persons.
The drone prototypes have already been tested through several simulations. In fact, it has been tested once in a dense forest area successfully. In this trial, two drones were able to map a radius of 20 square meters in just 5 minutes. If this concept sees the light of the day, the air ambulance services around the world will certainly become more efficient and will bring down the cost of search and rescue. For now, we will simply have to wait and watch.