The ambulance of the future may not have a driver

Ambulances (old style). Image: Getty.

The revolution in driverless vehicles will make many jobs obsolete. In the US alone, it is estimated that driverless vehicles will wipe out 4.1m jobs. Truck drivers, delivery drivers, taxi drivers and Uber drivers will be out of work, and sooner than you might think.

But automation can be a force for good, doing jobs more cheaply, safely and efficiently. In fact, there’s one service that’s crying out for more automation: the ambulance service.

Demand for ambulance services is growing rapidly in developed countries due to a combination of a growing and ageing population, an increase of chronic diseases, and a scarcity of primary care clinics and providers. This leaves the emergency services overburdened, with a dismal outlook for the future.

With driverless vehicles already on the road, some governments are looking into the possibility of driverless ambulances. Driverless ambulances and other technology could take some of the strain off the emergency services, freeing paramedics to deal with high-risk patients where each minute waiting for treatment significantly reduces a patient’s chance of surviving. This would include cardiac arrest patients, where brain damage typically starts within four to six minutes.

Initially, health services could introduce a fleet of driverless ambulances alongside their current manned models to deal with low-risk patients – essentially starting out as “medical taxis”. Low-risk patients would be picked up by a driverless ambulance and transported to the nearest hospital or clinic for treatment. With the introduction of these ambulances, the need for paramedics to respond to every call – regardless of severity – would be greatly reduced.

However, not everyone is in favour of automated ambulances. One survey of just over 1,000 people in the US found that around half said they would be comfortable riding in one.

Supported by drones

As well as delivering Amazon packages, spying on neighbours and conducting military strikes, drones could also be used by health services to take the pressure off the ambulance service. They would be especially useful for delivering medical equipment to remote locations. In fact, a start-up called Zipline is already successfully delivering blood and medicine across Rwanda.

But these services could also be used in developed countries. For example, if a doctor in a remote rural location has to treat a patient with a rare condition, but she lacks the necessary medical supplies at her GP clinic or local hospital, a drone could deliver the supplies. Alternatively, drones could be used to deliver vital medical equipment to a drop point prior to the manned ambulance’s arrival. This would allow the patient to be treated as soon as the paramedics arrive.

Drones could also be used to transport specialised equipment, medication or even blood products between hospitals. This would reduce the need for ambulances to drive further distances to find somewhere that can treat their patient.


Predicting emergencies

For several years, police forces around the world have been using sophisticated algorithms to predict areas where crime is most likely to occur. This allows police departments to deploy officers to areas of “high demand”. While these Minority Report-style systems have proven to be controversial, a similar system that predicts illness hotspots is less likely to raise eyebrows.

Such a system could be used by ambulance services. It would collect previous trip data from the ambulances (both manned and unmanned). The software would take into consideration the time of year, weather, public events (such as concerts and protests), populations (such as elderly or deprived) and past emergencies that ambulances have responded to. This would enable the driverless ambulances to locate themselves within high-risk areas when they are not in use, allowing them to respond much faster to calls.

As these systems log more and more information, they will become increasingly more accurate at predicting medical emergencies, in the same way that data mining tools, used by social media and advertising companies, get better at figuring out what food, clothes, movies and so on you like best, and what you might like in the future.

The ConversationThese new methods may seem far off, but depending on how fast healthcare systems invest and adopt these technologies, they could be changing the way we receive medical treatment within decades. In the face of ever rising demand, technology is likely to be the saviour of ambulance services, making it faster, more effective and safer. However, it may take a while before the public are comfortable with the idea.

Keegan Shepard is a PhD Candidate at Edge Hill University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

More than 830 cities have brought essential services back under public control. Others should follow

A power station near Nottingham: not one owned by Robin Hood Energy, alas, but we couldn't find anything better. Image: Getty.

The wave of cities worldwide rejecting privatization is far bigger and more successful than anyone thought, according to a new report from the Transnational Institute, Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation. Some 835 cities in 45 countries have brought essential services like water, energy and health care back under public control.

The persistent myth that public services are by nature more expensive and less efficient is losing its momentum. Citizens and users do not necessarily have to resign to paying increasingly higher tariffs for lower standard services. The decline of working conditions in public services is not an inevitability.

And the ever larger role private companies have played in public service delivery may at last be waning. The remunicipalisation movement – cities or local authorities reclaiming privatised services or developing new options – demonstrates that cities and citizens are working to protect and reinvent essential services.

The failure of austerity and privatisation to deliver promised improvements and investments is part of the reason this movement has advanced. But the real driver has been a desire to meet goals such as addressing climate change or increasing democratic participation in service provision. Lower costs and tariffs, improved conditions for workers and better service quality are frequently reported following remunicipalisation.  Meanwhile transparency and accountability have also improved.

Where remunicipalisation succeeds, it also tends to inspire other local authorities to make similar moves. Examples are plentiful. Municipalities have joined forces to push for renewable, climate-friendly energy initiatives in countries like Germany. Public water operators in France and Catalonia are sharing resources and expertise, and working together to overcome the challenges they meet.

Outside Europe, experiments in public services are gaining ground too. Delhi set up 1,000 Mohalla (community) clinics across the city in 2015 as a first step to delivering affordable primary health care. Some 110 clinics were working in some of the poorest areas of Delhi as of February 2017. The Delhi government claims that more than 2.6m of its poorest residents have received free quality health care since the clinics were set up.


Local authorities and the public are benefiting from savings too. When the Nottingham City Council found out that many low-income families in the city were struggling to pay their energy bills, they set up a new supply company. The company, Robin Hood Energy, which offers the lowest prices in the UK, has the motto: “No private shareholders. No director bonuses. Just clear transparent pricing.”

Robin Hood Energy has also formed partnerships with other major cities. In 2016, the city of Leeds set up the White Rose Energy municipal company to promote simple no-profit tariffs throughout the Yorkshire and Humberside regions. In 2017, the cities of Bradford and Doncaster agreed to join the White Rose/Robin Hood partnership.

Meanwhile, campaigners with Switched on London are pushing their city to set up a not-for-profit energy company with genuine citizen participation. The motivations in these diverse cities are similar: young municipal companies can simultaneously beat energy poverty and play a key role in achieving a just and renewable energy transition.

Remunicipalised public services often involve new forms of participation for workers and citizens. Remunicipalisation is often a first step towards creating the public services of the future: sustainable and grounded in the local economy. Inspiration can be found in the European towns and villages aiming for 'zero waste' with their remunicipalised waste service, or providing 100 per cent locally-sourced organic food in their remunicipalised school restaurants.

Public services are not good simply because they are not private. Public services must also continuously renew themselves, grow, innovate and recommit to the public they serve.

The push for remunicipalisation in Catalonia, for example, has come from a movement of citizen platforms. For them, a return to public management is not just an end in itself, but a first step towards the democratic management of public services based on ongoing civil participation.

Evidence is building that people are able to reclaim public services and usher in a new generation of public ownership. The momentum is building, as diverse movements and actors join forces to bring positive change in communities around the world.

You can read the Transnational Institute report, “Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation”, on its website.