By eye it all seems easy: you take a drone, or technically speaking a UAV (Unmanned Aerial vehicle), you equip it with a suitable container, you put blood or other biological material test tubes in it, you take it off, reach the destination and finish. In fact, the problems to be faced and the variables to be taken into consideration when it comes to medical transport there are many. However, the undertaking does not appear impossible, as demonstrated by the project launched last year byBambino Ges pediatric hospital in Rome.

The second experimental flight in April

On 22 October it was carried out a first experimental flight between the two hospitals of Palidoro and Santa Marinella, thanks to an agreement with Leonardo and Telespazio, in collaboration with Enac (National Civil Aviation Authority). And, pandemic permitting, the second experimental flight should start by the first half of April, which aims to test the type of container necessary to ensure the good maintenance of the transported samples. A whole series of parameters must be respected, ranging from maintaining the temperature, to evaluating vibrations, to safety issues in case, for example, the drone should crash for any reason, he explains. Young Andrea Onetti, director of the Department of Diagnostic and Laboratory Medicine of the Bambino Ges.

The right container: resistant and that maintains the temperature

A suitable container is needed which, falling from a flight altitude of 20-25 meters, does not break and that therefore avoid dispersion on the ground of any potentially infected or dangerous biological liquids. From the point of view of temperature, the tubes with the samples to be analyzed must be kept at a controlled temperature, that is between + 4 and +8 degrees centigrade, except for very special situations. There are two ways to do this: for short transports, up to 30 minutes maximum, classic synthetic ice blocks can be used which are cooled and placed in a specific sector of the transport chamber. The container must be heat-proof therefore with a double wall with expanded polystyrene inside. For longer flights, on the other hand, you need to have one sort of mini fridge, i.e. a small compressor and a heat exchanger powered by the drone’s battery. This has the advantage of a much more effective and precise control over time of the temperature and the disadvantage of being heavier.

Beware of excessive vibrations

As for the vibrations instead

, could have consequences on some specific analyzes, especially those on clotting factors. We have already seen that vibrations of a certain magnitude can facilitate the polymerization of fibrinogen and then cause fibrin clots to form. We are also in the experimental phase, we need to create drones with engines that vibrate as little as possible, adds Onetti Muda. Transport times and cost-benefit ratio will also be evaluated to ensure that the comparison with the alternative, ie road transport, has at least equivalent characteristics of safety and quality of material transport, with the benefits of faster speed, cost savings – car, driver’s staff and insurance – and eco-friendly, too, he says.

Market in crisis

The health crisis had a negative impact on the drone market but it also highlighted the potential of this technology. The research of the Drone Observatory of the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano says so. Drone industrial application projects surveyed from secondary sources, 199 in 2020, fell by 20% compared to the previous year, as much as 50% in the case of trials and operational projects, while announcements and one-off uses increased. The Observatory has taken a census over 60 international projects born as a response to the emergency, of which 70% promoted by public administrations. 37% of these initiatives dedicated to population monitoring, 25% for the delivery of urgent medical material of personal protective equipment, 17% focused on communicating guidelines for social distancing, 14% concerned the sanitation of buildings and streets, 5% produced aerial shows to pay tribute to healthcare workers, and 2% focused on temperature control through thermal chambers. We have surveyed 44 cases of drone application in the health sector, 4 of which in Italy – he says Paola Olivares, director of the Drones Observatory -. This is an experiment for the drone transport of biological material between the Monaldi and Cotugno hospitals in Naples; of a transport not completed because the drone landed on a hotel in Riccione. Then there is an announcement of transport of tampons with drones. An application of the Italian Red Cross to carry out actions of contagion prevention and transport of medical material urgent. And finally, the case of transport carried out by Leonardo to the infant Jesus in Rome which was an important success story.

All projects authorized (or under evaluation) by Enac

In a note issued to Corriere Salute, Enac (National Civil Aviation Authority) specifies that has so far authorized only a few experiments that simulated the drone transport of biological sanitary material, a type of transport that potentially falls into the category of “dangerous goods”, in VLOS operations (Visual Light of Sight), pilot’s sight flight, e BVLOS (Beyond Visual of Sight), I fly beyond the pilot’s sight ”. In addition to the Philotea project (Public Health Integrate Logistic Operation Transport Emergency APR) for the simulated transport via drone of biological material between the Monaldi and Cotugno hospitals in Naples, in the last two years there have been several first projects in which ENAC has been involved for there experimentation of operational concepts and technologies for the design of future supply services through drones, of life-saving devices, drugs, blood bags, samples, plasma derivatives, vaccines etc. Among other authorized projects, the Italdron project which provides for experimental use for operations at the San Raffaele hospital area for demonstration of simultaneous flight with two drones, commissioned by the health facility itself and Vodafone Italia for an initial development of a system to be used for the functional purposes of the hospital facility. In any case, not currently authorized to transport organic material. Then there is the Leonardo project, which we have talked about. RPS, BEPI project being authorized by ENAC, funded by ESA (European Space Agency) for the use of space-based technologies for the health monitoring of the population to combat the COVID 19 pandemic. ABZero Authorization in VLOS with transport of a payload to simulate the transport of biomedical. Enac has also received other requests including: – CRI for anti Covid-19 sanitation of health facilities and emergency vehicles, outdoors. – Sis 118 for the transport of defibrillators by drones. – Bambino Ges. Pediatric Hospital for the transport of biomedical samples (potentially dangerous goods) over populated areas for rapid analysis of samples during ongoing surgical interventions. – OPBG for the transport of blood bags (dangerous goods) between hospital sites (third phase of the trial).

Municipalities do not use them

The Covid-19 emergency has led many regulatory bodies to derogate from current regulations streamlining the authorization process and granting delegations to local actors to quickly meet the needs of their territories – says Paola Olivares -. The regulatory development of the coming years undoubtedly benefited from these experiments. In order to be able to give further impetus to the applications it will be necessary reconcile the discontinuity created by the opening up to local businesses and create ecosystems capable of deploying all the skills necessary to push the sector towards greater growth. Despite the thrust of the pandemic, currently 77% of the 661 Italian municipalities interviewed by the Observatory does not use this technology, but 29% intend to use them within the next three years. Most municipal projects that are already using drones concern aerial mapping and monitoring (70%), inspections (62%), security and surveillance (53%), search and rescue (46%). The main benefits perceived by administrations are the increase in the quantity (66%) and accuracy (37%) of the data collected, the reduction in the time required for carrying out activities (41%) and the increase in public safety (37%). ).

April 10, 2021 (change April 10, 2021 | 19:42)

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