How Drones Could Reinvent The Delivery Of Healthcare

October 01, 2018
drone healthcare delivery

It struck me as we had our family vacation picture taken from 300 feet in the air that I too had become part of the consumer and commercial drone infatuation. My nephew is a police sergeant tasked with developing a drone strategy for his local squad. He admitted that most of the applications were rather mundane and were related to auto accidents creating traffic jams, brush fire management, crowd analysis and some tactical work when following a perpetrator on the run. He claimed law enforcement is very limited on what degree it could use the drone for surveillance.

Essentially, the technology is in its infancy related to the legal restrictions and the instances where it is being used. For example, my nephew said technology was just being approved that would sync offenders wearing ankle bracelets with drone geolocation to track movements.

However, many other industry verticals have fewer restrictions and a wider array of software applications. My years working on smart cities tells me that the applications are far ranging as related to traffic patterns, construction sites, urban population density and movement studies and disaster relief.

But one of the more interesting aspects of drone and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) deployment is related to healthcare. At first blush one might have to stretch to think of how tiny hovering devices might be applied to value-based care. But the fact is that healthcare may become one of the more rapidly developing segments of the drone market. Here are a few examples of current and future cases.

Rural health

Many of the current use cases are related to expediting the delivery and analysis of blood and urine samples from remote rural settings to regional or urban medical facilities. In some remote villages in Africa and the Amazon, the UAS technology has been used to deliver vaccines to control epidemics among distant tribes where traditional transportation could take days through deserts and washed out roadways. The United Nations has also used drone technology to deliver condoms to rural Ghana where sexually transmitted epidemics were running rampant.

Many think of the stereotypical small black drone that sounds like a mosquito as it flies. But many of the “industrial strength drones” look more like the small unmanned aircraft seen on the battlefield. These larger drones are evolving into the equivalent of flying ambulances with the capability to set down in remote areas and extract patients needing critical care.

Recent applications have also focused on supplying emergency medical supplies and medication to patients at sea.

Pre-first responder treatment

Drones have been used as medical first responders during major disasters. This ranges from something as simple as delivering first aid supplies to a high-altitude triage making the arrival of the human first responders more efficient by determining where victims needing the most immediate care are located.

Prescription delivery

With all the publicity related to Amazon’s panned drone delivery service comes the notion of prescription delivery. The greatest challenge with such delivery is less the logistics than the drug integrity as the prescription travels through the sky and to the recipient.

MedExpress, a UK company, is going as far as experimenting with emergency drone deliveries of Viagra for those in immediate need!

Frank Cutitta is an Editor-at-Large for Smart & Resilient Cities.

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