Service uses ‘hub-and-spoke’ routing model to provide rapid delivery of time-and-temperature-sensitive clinical laboratory specimens and supplies
Drone delivery service in healthcare is beginning to take flight both here and abroad, with California-based Matternet launching medical drone delivery networks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Berlin, Germany.
The successful use of unmanned aircraft to deliver patient specimens has major implications for clinical laboratories. When conditions allow them to fly, drones can significantly shorten delivery times of routine patient specimens such as blood and urine.
The drones will fly two routes and carry scheduled deliveries of specialty infusion medicines and personal protective equipment (PPE). Because infusion medicines are patient-specific, high cost, and have a short shelf life, delivery by drone within 10 minutes is an ideal solution, Matternet said in the news release. Individually compounded medicines also will be delivered on-demand for dispensing to patients who need real-time access to treatments.
Matternet has been operating in the US since August 2018. In, “WakeMed Uses Drone to Deliver Patient Specimens,” Dark Daily’s sister publication, The Dark Report, reported how—following a two-year trial period using a quadcopter to deliver patients’ samples from a physicians’ office satellite lab/draw station to the WakeMed Medical Center’s central lab—the North Carolina healthcare system, in partnership with UPSFF, completed the first successful revenue-generating commercial transport of lab supplies by drone in the US at WakeMed’s flagship hospital and campus in Raleigh, N.C.
Bala Ganesh, a Vice President of Engineering at UPS, said UPSFF, which was launched in July 2019, is focused on healthcare deliveries. To make drone deliveries commercially viable, both “criticality” and an industry’s “willingness to pay” are important, he said. “We never looked at delivering pizza,” he told Forbes. UPSFF is the first company to receive the FAA’s Part 135 certification (package delivery by drone).
BVLOS Drone Delivery of Clinical Laboratory Specimens in Europe
Last year, Matternet launched the first beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS)-operated medical drone network in Europe. Its unmanned aircraft will be flown without the requirement that a pilot always maintain a visual line of sight on the aircraft.
Matternet launched its BVLOS operations at Labor Berlin, Europe’s largest hospital laboratory, which includes facilities in 13 hospitals across Berlin.
“We continue to expand drone delivery operations around the world with a focus on urban environments,” said Andreas Raptopoulos, Matternet Founder and CEO, in a press release. “Hospitals and laboratories in densely populated cities like Berlin need fast and predictable transportation methods that avoid urban congestion. We are thrilled to partner with Labor Berlin and look forward to streamlining their diagnostics work to the benefit of Berlin’s hospitals and residents.”
According to the press release, Matternet’s drone delivery network will transport samples from hospitals to Labor Berlin facilities up to 70% faster than ground courier services, as well as reducing vehicular traffic and emissions in Berlin’s urban core. Currently, more than 15,000 samples are transported daily across Labor Berlin’s healthcare system.
Will Drone Delivery of Clinical Laboratory Specimens Become the New Normal?
“I think that this is the wave of the future,” Atrium Health Senior Vice President Conrad Emmerich, who previously served as Senior Vice President, Business Services, at Wake Forest Baptist Health, told Fox 8 News.
It’s certainly beginning to look as if drone delivery as a viable alternative to traditional transport methods is taking off (pun intended). Since 2017, Dark Daily has published 10 ebriefings on drone delivery systems for healthcare being trailed worldwide.
Since the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, regular transporting of clinical laboratory specimens and supplies by drone could reduce transit times between hospitals and clinical laboratories and lower laboratory specimen transportation costs.
Hospital administrators and medical laboratory executives may want to keep tabs on the expansion of such services into their regions. There may be opportunities to improve clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction.
Drone delivery of goods, including medical laboratory specimens, gains popularity around the world and FAA licensing in the US
In April, Dark Daily’s sister publication The Dark Report was first to report WakeMed Health and Hospitals’ use of a quadcopter drone to deliver patients’ medical laboratory specimens. The drone flew roundtrip between a complex of physicians’ offices on WakeMed’s Raleigh, N.C. campus and the central clinical laboratory.
The April flight was the first time a drone transport of medical
laboratory specimens in the US generated revenue.
Google Drone Delivery?
Not to be outdone, Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG), Google’s parent company, appears to be getting in on the trend. In April, the FAA issued an Air Carrier Certification to Wing Aviation LLC, an air delivery developer and subsidiary of Alphabet. Wing has recently launched a drone delivery service in Canberra, Australia and is testing a similar drone delivery service in the US.
“Our service allows customers to order a range of items such as fresh food, hot coffee, or over-the-counter chemist items on our mobile app, and have them delivered directly to their homes by drone in minutes,” Wing stated in a press release.
The FAA’s Air Carrier Certification allows Wing to deliver
goods from local businesses to private homes in the US. Their vertical take-off
drones weigh about 11 pounds, are equipped with a hover propeller to reduce
noise, and have wings that allow the devices to fly further and faster while using
The FAA certification restricts drone deliveries to daylight
hours only with no flying in the rain. The devices are allowed to fly over
people but cannot hover above them, nor can they carry any hazardous
The company plans to launch a trial delivery service later
this year in the Blacksburg and Christiansburg areas of Southwest Virginia.
Wing hopes to add other markets to its drone delivery service in the
“This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy. Safety continues to be our number one priority as this technology continues to develop and realize its full potential,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine L. Chao, in a press release.
Wing Drones Deliver Over Australia Too!
Wing has been testing its drone delivery service in
Australia since 2014. Over the past 18 months, Wing has flown over 70,000 test
flights and made more than 3,000 successful deliveries—including food, small
household items, and over-the-counter drug store items—as part of the Australia
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, but commonly called drones) continue to gain in popularity around the world. As more drones appear in the sky, more practical functions are being discovered for them, including medical uses.
According to an article penned by Jeremy Tucker, DO, for Drones in Healthcare, numerous potential medical uses exist for drones. In addition to transport and delivery services, they may also be helpful in search and rescue missions and providing medical care and telemedicine services. Tucker is Executive Director for Patient Safety Solutions at US Acute Care Solutions.
“Drones are going to decrease the reliance on human beings
that provide care and decrease the cost of assisting people,” he predicted.
“Being able to cross long distances at faster speeds to deliver blood products
and lab samples also is a huge benefit. Now transporting blood products between
hospitals, for example, involves vehicles on the ground that are prone to
accidents and delays. Drones can help decrease those incidents.”
Prior to using drones for clinical laboratory specimen
deliveries, WakeMed relied on courier cars and trucks to transport specimens
within the campus. The ground delivery service could take up to an hour to
complete. By comparison, drones can make the same delivery in minutes, ensuring
lab specimens remain viable, and getting test results to patients faster.
Drone Delivery Around the World!
Dark Daily previously covered the use of drones to deliver laboratory specimens in Switzerland and laboratory supplies and blood products in Rwanda. And in 2017, Dark Daily reported that a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University had successfully flown a drone carrying lab specimens more than 161 miles across the Arizona desert.
Might we soon see a Google drone delivery service for
clinical laboratory specimens as well?
The utilization of drones represents another market trend
that is creating opportunities for clinical laboratories. Using drones to
transport lab specimens could be a potential source of revenue and presents
labs with a pathway for providing value-added, timely service to healthcare