Every minute counts: rescue workers fight against the clock

When the call comes in at the dispatch center, things need to happen fast: rescue workers sprint to the car, race onto the street and make their way to the patient within a few short minutes. No more than thirty minutes later, the patient arrives at the hospital from which he is hopefully soon released again with a clean bill of health. At least that's how it works in theory.


Photo: Patient is brought from the rescue chopper to the hospital; Copyright: panthermedia.net/Monkeybusiness Images

Within thirty minutes, the patient should arrive in the hospital; ©panthermedia.net/ Monkeybusiness Images

Unfortunately, the reality is often quite different. This starts already by choosing your place of residence. Generally, (big) city dwellers get help much faster than people that live in smaller villages. This makes sense, since the route with an ambulance to a patient living in the country is simply much farther. This is why there is a search for alternative emergency routes, for instance via air to help heart attack patients where every minute counts. So far, in severe cases a rescue helicopter was used in addition to the land-based rescue service. Only a few countries, like the Australian outback for instance, are an exception to this two-tier rescue model.

The reason for this is that after the initial emergency care, vehicle transportation might be preferable to a helicopter transport, if the patient could be stabilized for instance. Even so, there are deliberations to allow exclusive air rescue services in the near future, if there are compelling models for this. This is the starting point of the PrimAir Project, which is sponsored by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (German: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF), and whose objective is "the development and description of a model for the innovative design of emergency medical services in large-scale, sparsely populated and structurally weak areas". The air –based preclinical rescue service forms “the basis of this model". Nevertheless, the project, which is scheduled for three years and is still running for another 1.5 years, needs to still solve different problems. There are some questions to be asked. Which already established rescue services should be given up for instance? Are there enough stations in Germany that are available for 24-hour air rescue services (the German Air Rescue currently has eight stations; ADAC Air Rescue has three)? After all, night flights currently come with special strings attached (e.g., the helicopter build, night vision goggles, airfield lighting). It might perhaps still take a while until we are used to looking towards the sky instead of listening for the ambulance siren.
Photo: Drone with attached AED; Copyright: panthermedia.net/chesky_w

Such a drone could carry defibrillators for first-aid operations soon; ©panthermedia.net/ chesky_w

Unmanned help from the sky

Associates of deinetz e.V. and the Height Tech Company have another kind of "air rescue" in mind. A drone, a so-called octocopter, is meant to be called in for emergencies via an app to drop an automated external defibrillator (AED) with a mini parachute. This way, first aiders could help people even before the ambulance arrives. However, it's still not clear whether drones are really able to fly in the near future. Currently the Federal Office of Civil Aeronautics (German: Luftfahrtbundesamt) forbids sending unmanned aerial vehicles, and night flights could also become a problem, because the defibrillator could get lost in the dark for instance. Areas with dense forests are possibly also a problem for this type of early rescue operation.

Built-up areas are thus more suited for increasing the amount of installed AEDs. At this point, they can be found in public buildings like train stations or airports; many companies also rent their own defibrillator. So everybody in the world is able to immediately identify the location of a public access defibrillator, the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitations developed a special sign that clearly shows the way and location of an AED. A 2007 U.S. study has already shown that the use of AEDs pays off. This is why an expansion of the AED network appears to make sense.
Photo: Simone Ernst; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

The article was written by Simone Ernst and translated from German by Elena O'Meara.