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YOUR HEALTH: Open the door for your medical drone

A team of scientists is working on a first-of-a-kind solution that would bring healthcare delivery closer than ever before

CINCINNATI — You might have heard them buzz or seen them overhead. 

But imagine drones used for a special medical mission.

"We are building a telehealth drone that will have the ability to go inside people's homes," said University of Cincinnati Mechanical Engineer professor Manish Kumar.

It's something that no one has been able to accomplish before.

"That's very, very challenging from technology point of view, because once you go inside people's homes, you lose connection with the GPS," said Kumar.

University of Cincinnati engineers are designing and testing special sensors that would allow the drones to maneuver through a front door, into a patient's living room carrying a tablet or smart phone. 

Patients would connect with a doctor for a telehealth appointment and access a special medical kit attached to the drone so they can measure and transmit health information.

"We'll be able to get a read on their heart rate," said Debi Semple, director of TeleHealth at the UC College of Nursing.

"We'll be able to know what is their oxygen levels in their body."

"It's going to let all the people stay at home for, for longer time, more independently," promised Kunish.

And it's not some distant science fiction.

Researchers say the prototype is ready and tested for use in people's homes.

It will be ideal for patients who live in rural areas miles or hours away. 

In the United States, one in four people do not have a primary care provider or easily accessible health center. 

The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion said increasing access to routine care is critical for improving health.

International benefits

According to UNICEF, there are "exceptional" benefits. 

Delivery of goods and medicines by drone reduces the risk of transmitting disease, limits physical contact, and is faster than previous methods. 

Some reports suggest that drones' use of aerial spraying of disinfectants in public outdoor spaces have also helped to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

In addition, drones can take off and land vertically in small areas. 

This will require less space compared to helicopters and planes.

Benefits already seen

Drones have the potential to make an impact delivering medical supplies to areas hard hit by disaster, which happened in Haiti through a startup company called Matternet.

Drones could also provide care from a safe distance if a patient was highly contagious and could deliver medicine to the bedside of a patient from the pharmacy, eliminating human steps and interaction if needed. 

Also, for the elderly this could be useful because it could allow people to receive care at home for a longer period of time, which would extend their independence.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.