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Fortis to test drones to transport organs for transplantation

The company expect developments towards use of drones for transportation next year

Gireesh Babu  |  Chennai 

Fortis to test drones to transport organs for transplantation

With the frequent traffic congestions in major cities and various other infrastructure related issues challenging the timely delivery of medical care, the healthcare service provider Fortis Healthcare is contemplating use of drones in medical care. The prominent use of drone is currently being discussed in transporting organs, especially for heart transplant within the city.

Fortis Healthcare, one of the healthcare major in the country, is testing the waters for active use of drones in organ transplants. With the technology improving, there are chances for increased number of organ transplant and creating a green corridor through the busy roads of the city.

Green corridors are mainly required for transplanting heart, as it has a low tolerance and has to be transplanted within four hours from being taken out from the body. While some organs like kidney and liver, which are more forgiving and could be kept in storage conditions fo 24 hours and 12-15 hours respectively, the need is to transport the organ from the donor's place to the receivers' end as quick as possible.

It was at this juncture, the doctors and the management in Fortis Healthcare started weighing options of using drones. Drones are already used in various parts of the world for different healthcare purposes including delivery of medical equipment or medical support during earthquake or taking some medical aid to areas where it is not easy to approach by road.

"It is a very good idea and we are exploring the possibilities," said Bhavdeep Singh, CEO of Fortis Healthcare recently in Chennai.

The other options available include organ conservation systems, special boxes which could keep organs such as heart for almost 10-11 hours. This system is at present commercially not available for use. Another option is to carry the organ by helicoptor, and the difficulty is that flying helicoptor is not allowed near many of the hospitals. Especially, when it comes to a city like Delhi, where most of the city falls under no flying zone, this option is also not viable.

Drones, on the other hand, could be the best option, say experts.

"Currently we are in the process of working out the modalities and the regulations etc, such as what kind of drones can be used, how much weight it will carry. I think it is still a bit far from the day when we actually do a trial run. But it is something we are thinking very seriously and we are involving all the agencies that should be involved," said Avnish Seth, director and HOD, Fortis Organ Retrieval and Transplant (FORT).

"It is very difficult to give a time frame, there are different variables. But I think within 2016 we should be able to see something happening," said Seth.

Drones are made in various parts of the country including some IITs, the DRDO and even amateurs who fly all kind of drones in the hills of Gurgaon every Sunday. Fortis is in touch with some of these amateurs to integrate the knowledge and come up with a solution which could be used in trial run with all the security clearances in place.

While it would not require the consent from the DGCA to fly the drone if it is below 500 feat, security is the major concern and challenge to overcome, says Seth. He adds that it would be easier if a security agency itself could run the drones for the hospitals, since it has to be controlled well as there are chances of drones being misused and can cause disaster. The main concerns are the technical part such as how much weight a drone carry and other details, the security clearances and the exact execution, like using a map to take the organ to the exact destination.

Challenges such as knowing the specifications for the drone for usage, how much they can carry and how they will work in bad weather etc would be some of the aspects which could emerge once the drones start operating in the space.

In terms of cost also it would be cheaper compared to other options, considering a drone would cost around Rs 1-2 lakh and it can be used hundreds of times, and could be very useful in organ transportation within the city. It may be noted that the city to city transportation of organs could be done through air ambulance, for which the cost would be anywhere between Rs 2-10 lakh.

Other than transporting critical organs for transplantation, drones could also be used in a situation in which 10 kg or less has to be transported for shorter distance for relief purposes in earthquake or any other disaster. It could also be used to transport some blood products, and other light weight equipment, said experts.

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First Published: Sun, November 15 2015. 14:16 IST