Will 2018 be the year of innovation for healthcare logistics? Drones are expected to take over medical deliveries at several European hospital sites. While Switzerland is about to conduct drone delivery of blood samples between hospital sites in the Lugano region, a German healthcare institution is preparing for a general drone flight permission for emergency care purposes in Frankfurt.
Drones for medical purposes have raised attention worldwide, namely in a Swedish trial where defibrillator-carrying drones promise to boost survival rates for people with cardiac arrest, or in South Africa where urgently required medications against rabies or snake bites can be brought to remote places. Will future European healthcare bring us blood and lab samples and maybe even organs via drones, or what should we expect from these visionaries taking medical supplies up in the air?
'Drones facilitate a quick, safe and predictable carriage and transit time'
Blood samples and products seem to be the first transit goods for all those healthcare institutions that have started trial phases for medical drone flight carriage. "For public perception blood is the best traceable indication and reasoning for this air traffic – it allows us to show that the concept works," states Dr Dennis Göbel, Manager of the Agaplesion Markus Krankenhaus in Frankfurt, Germany. As it turns out, the German hospital has more use case concepts lying in the drawer: "We can imagine an extension for other transport means such as laboratory, pathology and tissue samples, organs and the like," Göbel says and forecasts other potential options to be realised once the hospital has managed to get the blood sample carriage entirely off the ground.
To this end, the Agaplesion Markus Krankenhaus has worked together with a whole series of drone manufacturers and has purchased and tested all types of drones from octocopters to hexacopters in terms of aviation features, steadiness, safety under different weather conditions and weight class. "We want to connect the blood bank of our main site with other hospitals in the area of Frankfurt covering an airline of five to seven kilometres beyond sight distance, and have now decided for a lightweight hexacopter model that can carry up to 2.4kg," says the hospital manager, taking into account the current drone regulation and the risk evaluation that is being compiled by the hospital management together with the German air traffic control.
Drone purchase versus rental service
Not all hospitals purchase drones themselves – which, in fact, are a costly affair. In Switzerland the regional public hospital of Lugano, Ospedale Regionale di Lugano, has initiated a joint project with Swiss Post and drone supplier Matternet. Amidst the hilly and lake-dotted landscape drones are supposed to accelerate transports between two sites of the clinical network as a start, hospital manager Luca Jelmoni tells Insights. After collaboration with local logistics failed, Jelmoni received word of the drone project from Swiss Post searching for a suitable business case.
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