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.
Through partnerships with CVS, Utah Health, and Kaiser Permanente the new UPSFF drone service could deliver savings to healthcare consumers and reduced TATs for clinical laboratories
United Parcel Service (UPS) successfully delivered by air medical prescriptions from a CVS pharmacy to customers’ residences in Cary N.C. This was the next step in the package delivery company’s plan to become a major player in the use of drones in healthcare and it has major implications for clinical laboratories and pathology groups.
Earlier this year, Dark Daily’s sister publication, The Dark Report (TDR), covered UPS’ launch of a drone delivery service on the WakeMed Health and Hospitals medical campus in Raleigh, N.C. The implementation followed a two-year test period during which UPS used drones manufactured by Matternet, a company in Menlo Park, Calif., to fly clinical laboratory specimens from a medical complex of physicians’ offices to the health system’s clinical laboratory more than 100 times. (See TDR, “WakeMed Uses Drone to Deliver Patient Specimens,” April 8, 2019.)
In October, UPS signed a letter of intent with CVS Health to “explore drone deliveries, expanding UPS’ sights from hospital campuses to the homes of CVS customers as it builds out its drone delivery subsidiary,” Modern Healthcare reported.
In November, UPS succeeded in these goals with UPS Flight Forward, Inc. (UPSFF), UPS’ new drone delivery service which, according to its website, is the first “drone airline” to receive full Part 135 certification (Package Delivery by Drone) from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“This drone delivery, the first of its kind in the industry, demonstrates what’s possible for our customers who can’t easily make it into our stores,” said Kevin Hourican, EVP, CVS Health and President of CVS Pharmacy, in a UPS press release. “CVS is exploring many types of delivery options for urban, suburban, and rural markets. We see big potential in drone delivery in rural communities where life-saving medications are needed and consumers at times cannot conveniently access one of our stores.”
Drones Deliver Clinical Lab Specimens and Pharmaceuticals
Since March, UPSFF has completed more than 1,500 drone
flights (with 8,000 clinical laboratory samples) at WakeMed in Raleigh, N.C.
UPS’ drone delivery decreased delivery time of clinical laboratory specimens
between WakeMed’s physician office building to the hospital-based lab from 19
minutes to three minutes, according to UPS data reported in October by an Advisory
Board daily briefing.
WakeMed is seeking to “provide advantages in patient care
that cannot be obtained in any other way” Michael
Weinstein, MD, PhD, Director of Pathology Laboratories at WakeMed, told TDR.
With the signing of the UPS (NYSE:UPS)-UPSFF (UPS Flight
Forward)-CVS (NYSE:CVS.N) agreement in October—and initial first flights which
took place on November 1 between a CVS pharmacy and customers’ residences in
Cary, NC—UPS completed the “the first revenue-generating drone delivery of a
medical prescription from a CVS pharmacy directly to a consumer’s home,” the
UPS press release states.
Other Healthcare Organizations on Board
WakeMed and CVS are not alone in UPS drone deployment for
healthcare deliveries. Advisory Board reported that UPSFF also partnered
with other healthcare systems to provide drone flights for on-campus delivery of
pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, including:
to move pharmaceuticals, supplies, and records to “qualifying” medical
Permanente: to send medical supplies between buildings at different campus
of Utah Health’s hospital campuses: to transport biological samples,
documents, supplies, and medical instruments between their facilities.
Drone delivery of clinical laboratory specimens is swiftly become a global reality that labs should watch closely. Past Dark Daily e-briefings reported on drone deliveries being conducted in Virginia, North Carolina, Australia, Switzerland, and Rwanda.
Pathologists and medical laboratory managers need to stay
abreast of these developments, as widespread drone delivery of clinical laboratory
specimens may happen on a surprisingly fast timeline. Drone delivery already
has TAT improvement implications and could be a way for labs to differentiate
their businesses and enhance workflow.