In Greenland, technology has long been employed as a way to shorten the distance between patients and healthcare professionals. Previously, the focus has been on telemedicine; since 2010, all of the country’s populated places with more than 50 people have been able to use computers to access the country’s five hospitals — and often to medical professionals in Denmark. Now, the health service is again turning to technology to improve access to healthcare, this time by reducing the amount of time it takes for residents of remote communities to receive medicine and for hospitals to be able to receive medical samples from patients.
In the first trial of its kind in Greenland, starting this month and continuing until November, the health service will be using drones of the sort pictured above to transport medical material between the Dronning Ingrid Hospital, in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, to the hamlet of Kapisillit (75km away) and Qeqertarsuatsiaat, another hamlet (131km away).
Waiting time due to the long distances and lack of roads has costs, both for people’s health and financially. If successful, deliveries using drones could make healthcare more efficient and make it possible for people to begin health treatments sooner than if deliveries are made by boat or must wait for a piloted aircraft.
“A faster course of treatment is ultimately of great importance in more serious cases of illness, and I look forward to seeing how drones can contribute to reducing the experience of distances in our region and hopefully help to improve our health,” said Jesper Olesen, the chief physician for the Sermersooq health region, in a statement.
The programme is by no means unique; drones are already proving their worth in a number of ways in remote areas like the Arctic, including healthcare. In 2019, for example, health officials in Swedish Lapland began a three-year project using drones to connect rural clinics with regional hospitals in a similar fashion. Nor will much trialling be needed to show they can work: in Switzerland, Matternet, one of the most successful medical delivery networks using drones managed to fly more than 1,000 test flights in a 20km corridor corridor between two hospitals in the city of Lugano without an accident. In Greenland, though, the geography, weather and settlement pattern that has limited access to health services, can be expected to add an additional degree of difficulty to drone delivery.
“We are currently working on ensuring a set-up that works well with the workflows and processes that our healthcare system is built around today,” said Ella Skifte, the health service’s chief nurse.
Falck, the firm that will operate the drones, is ubiquitous in Denmark as a provider of all manner of medical and emergency services. The announcement that is will trial drones in Greenland comes after it began a similar test that is using drones of the sort pictured above to link a Danish island to a mainland hospital. It expects that both trials will lead to the widespread use of drones in the health service in Greenland.
Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal
Featured image: Falck
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