Wake Forest Baptist Health and its healthtech business enterprise operated through the Innovation Quarter, iQ Healthtech Labs, today launched a drone delivery service operated by UPS and its subsidiary, UPS Flight Forward (UPSFF) at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
This collaboration with UPS, through UPSFF, will provide a rapid delivery option for time- and temperature-sensitive medical supplies as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) to help keep Wake Forest Baptist’s health care providers safe and improve patient outcomes.
UPSFF begins operating Matternet’s M2 drones from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s central campus in Winston-Salem to other health system locations, marking the U.S. drone delivery industry’s first hub-and-spoke operating model, which launches drones from one central location to multiple locations.
This structure and approach will enable UPSFF and Wake Forest Baptist to potentially add new delivery routes more efficiently than would be possible with a point-to-point delivery operation.
Initially, the drones will operate on two routes, with a phased approach planned to allow the program to expand as other opportunities present themselves. Drones will carry scheduled deliveries of specialty infusion medicines. Since these infusion medicines are patient-specific and high-cost, with a short shelf life, delivery by drone within 10 minutes is an ideal solution. Individually compounded medicines will also be delivered on demand to dispense to patients who need real-time access to treatments that are not commercially available. On another route drones will carry personal protective equipment (PPE) to health care providers.
The drones use direct vertical takeoff and landing points, with cargo boxes connected directly to the drone itself at all times while in the air for secure delivery of urgent and sensitive medical items. Specially trained drone operators are stationed onsite to operate the drones and scan the airspace for conflicting air traffic.
“Increasing efficiency of our supply chain routes helps provide better service to our patients and their families,” said Conrad Emmerich, chief supply chain officer at Wake Forest Baptist Health. “Partnering with UPS Flight Forward through our iQ Healthtech Labs opens new doors for us to do just that through drone delivery.”
iQ Healthtech Labs was established earlier this year by the Innovation Quarter to help orchestrate partnerships between anchor institutions like Wake Forest Baptist and industry leaders looking to advance healthtech solutions into the marketplace. The Labs focus on five key sectors of healthtech: value and health transformation, virtual health, healthy aging, personalized care and precision medicine, and learning systems. As part of the partnership, a UPS Flight Forward office will be established in the iQ Healthtech Labs suite in the Innovation Quarter’s Bailey Power Plant.
“This partnership with UPSFF aligns strategically with our mission to improve the health of those in the communities that we serve as well as our Virtual Health sector in iQ Healthtech Labs,” said Jane Shen, PharmD, head of sector development for Innovation Quarter. “We seek to leverage technology advances to make access to health care easier and more effective. Collaborating in innovative ways with a key logistics partner like UPS allows Wake Forest Baptist to deliver care in better and more efficient ways to patients and their families.”
The service at Wake Forest Baptist operates under the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Part 107 rules and uses Matternet’s M2 drone system. Last year, UPS and Matternet initiated the first ongoing revenue-generating drone delivery service at WakeMed’s flagship hospital campus in Raleigh and have flown more than 2,000 flights as part of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s participation in the FAA’s Integration Pilot Program. UPSFF has also initiated similar services on other U.S. health care campuses.
UPS launched UPS Flight Forward last year and later earned the FAA’s standard Part 135 Standard certification to operate a drone airline. UPS has worked with innovative drone technology partners and aviation regulators for years to advance the use of drones for delivery.
“UPS Flight Forward has proven through its pioneering work on other health care campuses that drone delivery can be faster than delivery by ground vehicles, which may be less direct or vulnerable to street traffic,” said Bala Ganesh, UPS vice president, Advanced Technology Group. “We are already the leader in drone delivery for the U.S. health care industry and we are building the broadest, most diverse capabilities for commercial drone delivery in other industries and locations around the world.”