(Source: Washington Post)
Well, before the medical community goes down that road, researchers with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine wanted to know whether an actual drone flight, including a shaky takeoff and bumpy landing, would affect the specimens.
So they tested it in a proof-of-concept study. And they discovered that the process of flying in a drone didn’t significantly impact blood samples; the findings were published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.
Timothy Amukele, a pathologist at Johns Hopkins, said he was interested in boosting access to medical care. He cited “decades of research” showing that poor access to medical care is more expensive and increases poor patient outcome, such as suffering or even death. “If we now have a cheaper way to move samples, it’s a good thing, especially for patients who are hard to reach, whether they live in rural areas or places without good roads,” he said.
Using drones for health isn’t entirely new; earlier this month, two drones transported medicine to a rural southwest Virginia clinic in the first Federal Aviation Administration-approved medicine delivery by drone.
But there hasn’t been much rigorous, systematic research into the impact of drone transport on specimens, according to the new study’s authors. Blood samples in particular could be impacted by the launch and landing; a drone has to be thrown in the air, and it lands on its bottom side. Amukele said he thought that at the very least, fragile platelets would be affected.
In this study, researchers at Johns Hopkins took 336 blood samples from 56 healthy adult patients, which they then drove to a flight site an hour away from the hospital. The samples were packed up as if they belonged to infectious patients and half of them were loaded onto a hobby-sized drone, 21 samples at a time.
The samples flew on a mile loop and stayed in the air from six to 38 minutes. Then, all of the samples were driven back to the lab, where they underwent 33 of the most common tests.