Carilion Clinic explores delivering medical supplies with drones

Published: Jun. 9, 2023 at 7:05 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Carilion Clinic is partnering with a business called Drone Up - and together they hope to fly medical treatment into the 22nd Century.

It’s a one-of-a-kind delivery. The health organization is studying using drones to drop off medical materials.

“We’re looking for the opportunities to use technology in the future to ease the burden on the front-line healthcare workers,” said Emergency Medicine Vice President Paul Davenport. “And so, this can be one way we can use technology to get items to them quicker or reduce some friction in the system today that may not be there tomorrow.”

They partnered with Drone Up, a company operating drone deliveries in 5 states across the country.

“This is was a great way to prove that drones can be beneficial to patients and local businesses and health care,” said Drone Up Business Development Vice President Greg James.

But first – a three-week trial will test if the technology can deliver medical supplies effectively. Drone Up is set to operate and launch within a 1.5-mile approved zone.

“What I’m interested to see is where we can deliver to across the campus. What kind of impact that has on the material management team and delivery team as well as the people receiving the goods? Which could be the skilled healthcare workers that need to focus on patients,” explained James. “So, I am looking for the outcomes that it provides for them.”

The study will also analyze if drones reduce delivery times and costs. Davenport says this is just the beginning of what can be a bigger reach.

“As we begin to demonstrate that drones can be used for supplemental medical assistance – we can see these drones doing deliveries to rural communities, some of our rural hospitals and clinics,” added Davenport.

Imagine a future where technology can drop off medicine at your doorstep.

“The patient may not need to leave their home and that we could be delivering things to home health nurses to community para-medicine programs,” explained Davenport.

Davenport says there will be some challenges, like working in the same airspace as the clinic helicopters and figuring out how far drones can make deliveries.

Carilion Clinic leaders say it’s too early to tell how much of an investment this will be if they decide to move forward with the technology after the study.