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Updated 08 March 2017

Would you feel safe in a driverless ambulance?

Automated ambulances can now free up an extra paramedic to care for patients, but studies find that people have mixed feelings about this new development.

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Automated, driver-free cars and trucks may be the wave of the future. But new research suggests many people aren't sold on the idea of a ride in a driverless ambulance.

This new technology does have one potential advantage over current emergency vehicles. Right now, a patient in an ambulance gets medical attention only from one paramedic, while the other crew member drives the vehicle.

Automated ambulances in SA

The ratio of ambulances to patients in South Africa is of grave concern. In some provinces like Limpopo the ratio remains far above the national target of one emergency vehicle per every 10 000 people. 

In Ha-Mashau, the village where David Mashaba passed away, the people have given up on the ambulance services. "Our personal cars are now are being used as ambulances because of this problem," a Democratic Alliance representative from the village, Jonas Mugovhani previously said. "We are losing our loved ones because of this."

With this in mind, automated ambulances may be the solution in South Africa, but the question is: Would you feel safe in one?

Let us know by participating in the poll below.

Two paramedics better than one

But "an automated ambulance would allow patients to get to the hospital much more quickly and smoothly while receiving care from two providers instead of one," said study co-author Joseph Keebler.

"Automation could be especially important in many regions where emergency medical services are insufficiently funded," added Keebler, who is an assistant professor of human factors at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

In South Africa this might be particularly beneficial to patients who live in rural areas. In 2015 47-year-old David Mashaba lay bleeding for more than three hours before an ambulance arrived at his village of Ha-Mashau about 40km east of Louis Trichardt. Mashaba eventually died due to the delay. 

And with prototype driverless cars and trucks already being tested, "it is likely that automated emergency response vehicles may soon be a reality," he and co-author Stephen Rice wrote in the study.

But how would today's public react to ambulances with computers instead of people in the driver's seat?

Mixed emotions about automated ambulances

To find out, the researchers conducted online studies involving more than 1 000 US adults. In one study, people were asked to imagine they had placed a 911 call and one of two scenarios followed: A conventional ambulance arrived with a driver and one attending paramedic, or a driverless ambulance arrived with two paramedics free to help the patient.

That study, involving adults with an average age of 36, found most still preferred getting driven to an ER in a conventional ambulance.

Fewer women than men would be willing to ride in a driverless ambulance, the study found, even if told they would receive care from two paramedics instead of one.

Subsequent research found that people who judged themselves as more "emotional" were less apt to embrace the idea of a driver-free ambulance, the Florida research team said.

"Our results showed that consumers were fairly positive toward the idea of the traditional ambulance configuration, while they had mixed feelings about the autopilot configuration," said Rice, an associate professor of human factors at Embry-Riddle.

Only time will tell

But he also wondered if, over time, people might not warm to the idea of a computer-driven ambulance.

"The novelty of the concept likely heightened people's emotional responses to it because ambulances on autopilot aren't a part of our everyday lives at this point," Rice said in a university news release.

Still, in a medical emergency, predictability can be important to patients.

"If you're having a heart attack and all of a sudden a driverless vehicle shows up, that would be an unexpected event, which could cause you additional stress," study co-author Scott Winter said in the news release. He's an assistant professor of aviation science at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida.

The study was to be presented at the International Symposium on Human Factors and Ergonomics in Health Care conference, in New Orleans. 

Automated ambulances in SA

The ratio of ambulances to patients in South Africa is of grave concern. In some provinces like Limpopo the ratio remains far above the national target of one emergency vehicle per every 10 000 people. 

In Ha-Mashau, the village where David Mashaba passed away, the people have given up on the ambulance services. "Our personal cars are now are being used as ambulances because of this problem," a Democratic Alliance representative from the village, Jonas Mugovhani previously said. "We are losing our loved ones because of this."

With this in mind, automated ambulances may be the solution in South Africa, but the question is: Would you feel safe in one?

Let us know by participating in the poll below.

Read More:

Drugs kept in ambulances can be unusable in weeks

Pray you don't need an ambulance in Mpumalanga

Animal activist acts as ambulance in Soweto

Copyright © 2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

 
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