how drones could take medical testing to new heights

Thanks to news stories highlighting military missions or trips to the local park, more people than ever are now familiar with drones. However, it’s important to understand that use of this technology — whether resembling a miniaturized plane or a so-called quadcopter — is not just limited to Air Force pilots, budding photographers and hobbyists.

Indeed, many people are now exploring whether the power of drones could potentially be used to provide much-needed medical services to rural areas or impoverished regions where passable road access is limited.

Consider a recent study performed at Johns Hopkins University, where a team of researchers set out to explore whether a drone could transport blood samples over a considerable distance without comprising their integrity.

As part of the study, the researchers gathered 56 otherwise healthy volunteers and took six blood samples from each. These samples were then transported to a predetermined flight site located an hour away where half of them were carefully packaged and attached to a hand-launched, fixed-wing drone.

The blood samples were then flown around for various periods of time in compliance with all applicable Federal Aviation Administration rules and in otherwise ideal weather conditions with temperatures in the 70s. The other blood samples were simply driven back to the laboratory.

Once the transportation aspect of the study was completed, the researchers ran 33 standard lab tests on all of the samples, securing basic readings for such items as red blood cell count, and glucose and sodium levels.

The researchers found the blood test results were virtually identical for the two study sets, something they said was remarkable given the generally fragile and sensitive nature of blood samples.

While the use of drones in this capacity will need to be studied much more thoroughly, it does indeed raise hope about improving access to laboratories for medical professionals situated far away from major population centers.

Nevertheless, the use of drones in any medical capacity also raises questions about patient privacy and, perhaps more significantly, the possibility of medical mistakes. For example, could a compromised blood sample conceivably result in medical professionals abandoning a particular course of treatment or a misdiagnosis?

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