News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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News, Analysis, Trends, Management Innovations for
Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

Hosted by Robert Michel
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Hospitals in United States and Germany Team Up with Matternet and UPS to Make Medical Laboratory Deliveries by Drone the New Normal

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.

According to an iQ Healthtech news release, North Carolina’s Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s central campus will be the site of the drone delivery industry’s first hub-and-spoke operating model, which launches drones from one central location to multiple locations. Drone-maker Matternet is teaming up with UPS’ drone delivery service, UPS Flight Forward (UPSFF), and Winston-Salem-based iQ Healthtech Labs to operate Matternet’s M2 drones across the hospital system.

Drone Delivery Can Save Time and Money

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.

Jane Shen, PharmD

“This partnership with UPSFF aligns strategically with our mission to improve the health of those in the communities that we serve as well as our Virtual Health sector in iQ Healthtech Labs,” said Jane Shen, PharmD (above), Chief Strategy Officer at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and Head of Sector Development for Innovation Quarter, a subsidiary of iQ Healthtech Labs, in the IQ Healthtech Labs news release. “We seek to leverage technology advances to make access to healthcare easier and more effective. Collaborating in innovative ways with a key logistics partner like UPS allows Wake Forest Baptist to deliver care in better and more efficient ways to patients and their families.” (Photo copyright: Triad Business Journal.)

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.

Since then, more than 2,200 deliveries of lab samples have been completed. The service at Wake Forest Baptist Health, as well as WakeMed, are part of North Carolina Department of Transportation’s participation in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program, Matternet stated in a news release

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).

Matternet Station

The video above demonstrates Matternet’s “Easy-to-use interface for sending and receiving packages 24/7/365.” The Matternet Station (above) is “integrated with the Matternet Cloud [Matternet’s proprietary software platform for operating Matternet networks] and the M2 Drone for payload and battery exchange, and autonomous take-off and landing. The station “can store up to seven payloads and batteries and hold one Matternet M2 Drone in its hangar.” Hospital-based clinical laboratory managers will appreciate the ease at which the station can be accessed by lab personnel. Click here to watch the full video. (Video and caption copyright: Matternet.)

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.

Even Amazon is getting into the business of drone delivery and may be eyeing healthcare as the next industry to disrupt, which Dark Daily covered in “Amazon’s Prime Air Drone Fleet Receives FAA Approval to Make Deliveries to Customers, Could Clinical Laboratory Specimens and Supplies be Next?

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.

—Andrea Downing Peck

Related Information

Wake Forest Baptist Health, iQ Healthtech Labs Launch Drone Delivery Service with UPS Flight Forward

North Carolina Hospital Chain Begins Drone Deliveries of Medicines

Matternet’s M2 Drone System Enabling New U.S. Hospital Delivery Network at Wake Forest Baptist Health

UAS Integrated Pilot Program

Matternet Launches Drone Delivery Operations at Labor Berlin in Germany

Matternet Launches BVLOS Medical Drone Delivery Operations in Berlin

Wake Forest Baptist Health Looking to Expand Drone Delivery Service

WakeMed Uses Drone to Deliver Patient Specimens

Amazon’s Prime Air Drone Fleet Receives FAA Approval to Make Deliveries to Customers, Could Clinical Laboratory Specimens and Supplies be Next?

UPS Expands Drone Delivery Service for Transporting Clinical Laboratory Specimens Across Healthcare Systems to Include Delivering Prescriptions from CVS Pharmacy to Customers’ Homes

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.)

At the 24th Annual Executive War College on Lab and Pathology Management in April, Chairman and CEO David Abney (above) explained why UPS is investing in drone technology for clinical laboratory health network delivery. “Healthcare is a strategic imperative for us,” Abney said. “We deliver a lot of important things, but lab [shipments] are critical, and they’re very much a part of patient care.” (Photo copyright: Dark Daily.)

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.

“When we launched UPS Flight Forward, we said we would move quickly to scale this business … and that’s exactly what we are doing,” Scott Price (above), UPS Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer, told Supply Chain Dive. “We started with a hospital campus environment and are now expanding scale and use-cases,” he added. Clinical laboratories can probably look forward to similar UPS drone delivery services in all 50 states and Washington, DC. (Photo copyright: UPS.)

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:

  • AmerisourceBergen: to move pharmaceuticals, supplies, and records to “qualifying” medical campuses;
  • Kaiser Permanente: to send medical supplies between buildings at different campus sites; and
  • University 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.  

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

UPS and CVS Make First Residential Drone Deliveries of Prescription Medicines

UPS and CVS Completed Two Drone Last Mile Deliveries to Homes on Nov. 1; Both Carried Prescription Drugs and Launched from a CVS Store in Cary, North Carolina

The Drones are Coming: CVS, Kaiser, and More are Teaming up with UPS for Drone Deliveries

U of U Launching Utah’s First Drone Delivery Program

UPS to Kick Off Drone Delivery Service with Hospital Campuses

UPS Forms a New Subsidiary for Drone Delivery and Seeks FAA Approval to Fly

Dark Daily: Drones

WakeMed Uses Drone to Deliver Patient Specimens

Chairman and CEO David Abney Explains UPS Drive Toward Drone Technology

 25th Annual Executive War College on Lab and Pathology Management