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The Mayo Clinic Wants to Deliver Blood via Drone

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Yahoo Tech

The Mayo Clinic wants to use drones to transport essential medical supplies to hospitals and disaster areas.

In a blog post that was initially spotted by Popular Science, the clinic discusses the potential good that drones could do for the medical community including moving much needed blood supplies from large regional hospitals with larger blood banks to smaller hospitals.

According to Cornelius A Thiels, a surgery resident at the clinic, blood products like platelets and thawed plasma have a short shelf-life, which makes keeping small hospitals stocked with supplies relatively difficult.

Currently, hospitals rely on courier services to get blood to patients in need of transfusions. “How to best manage critically ill patients in the prehospital environment is a field we are actively researching,” Thiels wrote. “UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) could potentially play a role in improving outcomes for these patients in the future.”

It’s not just hospitals that could benefit from drones: the Mayo Clinic’s post also points to the potential for drones to help provide medical supplies to hard to reach disaster areas.

(ThinkStock)

“The first medical application of UAVs is likely to be disaster relief, where the logistics of distributing blood products is often a bigger problem than supply,” the post states. “The ability of UAVs to travel over closed roads and rugged terrain without risk to a flight crew seems to make them idea for use in disaster areas.”

In fact, the clinic points to some instances in which drones have already been used in medical emergencies including the 2012 Haiti earthquake.

Drones used for medical supplies would obviously be smaller and less expensive than the massive airplane-sized drones used by the military. According to the clinic, a $10,000 drone could carry 5 pounds worth of supplies for up to 60 minutes and a distance of 60 miles.

There are, however, a few roadblocks in the way of drones providing lifesaving supplies. First off, the FAA currently puts strict regulations on drone use in the U.S. Beyond that is the fact that a small craft full of biohazard material hovering over people’s heads could make some uneasy.

The biggest company looking to take advantage of drones in the U.S. is Amazon; it’s CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos recently announced that the ecommerce company is working on package delivery via drone. The FAA effectively squashed that idea, and so Amazon has recently moved part of its testing program to Canada to get around FAA restrictions.

But the Mayo Clinic isn’t interested in getting you your Dr. Who box set: it wants to get life-saving supplies to people in need. Here’s hoping it can get it done.

Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+.

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