What is the purpose of drones in healthcare logistics?
Millions of light-weight and high-value medical deliveries are carried out each year, by van and lorry as means of transport. These movements typically take place between medical facilities, from patients to labs and from labs to pharmacies. However, challenges may arise with deliveries because of decentralized supply chains, geographical barriers and road congestion.
The current average speed for road transport in an urban node such as London is already less than 30km/h, which can have detrimental effects on urgent medical deliveries. As urbanisation accelerates, 60% of the world is expected to live in urban areas by 2030, increasing travel time by 50% in densely populated areas and disrupting delivery time of vital health products.
The challenges arise when time is of the essence to deliver temperature-sensitive health products such as blood bags, medicines, samples and vaccinations that require a strict and temperature-controlled supply chain. For example, emergency delivery of blood bags need to arrive within the hour, samples need to be tested as quickly as possible, and precision medicine has a shelf life of a matter of hours. If not delivered on time or if cold chain breaks, products get damaged, degraded and lose their effectiveness.
Nevertheless, these are examples of health commodities that are well-suited for delivery by drone, an alternative means of transport. Using electric long-range drones, such as the Avy Aera, can contribute to a more affordable, reliable and sustainable healthcare supply chain. Ultimately, improving the quality of lives by decreasing travel time between facilities, and offering better treatment with fewer visits, leading to shorter hospitalization.
Every country is moving at its own pace when it comes to the implementation of drones in the medical sector. In the past year, a number of medical drone projects were launched all over Europe. This new wave of Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLoS) drone trials have partly been initiated to deliver Covid-19 samples from remote areas to the nearest testing facility. Aside from that, undergoing drone projects for the delivery of medicines and samples have started to go public simultaneously. Examples of medical drone projects in the EU can be found in Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and many more countries.
Medical Delivery Drone Projects in the EU
In Moneygall, Ireland, autonomous drones are currently being used to deliver prescriptions in a partnership with Ireland’s health authority. According to a local general practitioner (GP), many of such rural places have reduced access to GPs during the pandemic. The delivery of essential supplies while keeping patients and their families at home is the key goal during this pandemic.
In the UK, similar projects have kicked off. From Hampshire to the Isle of Wight, an air corridor has been created to test the use of drones to deliver key supplies without being dependent on reduced ferry crossings. This unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) project uses a fixed-wing drone to help the NHS in these difficult times.
Across the channel, in Naples, Italy, a medical box had already been tested to keep samples and medicine stable and cool. Now, with Covid-19, a 5km BVLoS flight has been set up. Similar R&D developments are happening in France, where La Poste decided to work towards a drone that can deliver (mostly medical) packages.
In Sweden, the first autonomous drone hospital-to-hospital deliveries were completed in July, 2019. The flight in Gothenburg was done with a quadcopter and covered 4,4 kilometers. Similar flights between hospitals have taken place in Belgium. In Antwerp, a command centre for medical drones has opened up to oversee medical transportations at an altitude of 150m. In Warsaw, Poland, test flights between facilities have also taken place. Poland was one of the first to introduce new BVLoS legislation in the EU.
A vision taking off
The idea to use drones in the medical field is as old as drones itself. Developments over the past decade have made it possible to realistically plan for the first trials. With the sudden impulse from Covid-19 and upcoming developments in EU drone legislation, the landscape seems to be changing in favour of medical drones.
Abraham Lincoln once said,
"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe".
Preparation is key to setting-up medical deliveries anywhere around the world. Avy has joined multiple consortia with partners around the globe to set-up medical deliveries and reach people in need. Our experience with the Dutch consortium is the importance of first bringing the right professional partners together with a shared vision. With the right focus on safety and legislation, we are confident that many of those medical delivery projects will take off.
Since being the proud drone provider of the Dutch Medical Drone Service, we’ve experienced the value of working closely with like-minded professionals within the healthcare industry. We must prepare ourselves for a more crowded world with an ageing population, and doing so by seeing drones as an opportunity to improve the healthcare system in a cost-effective and sustainable way. Have you considered drones and putting innovation at the forefront of healthcare?
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