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