FirstHealth of the Carolinas recently launched a pilot program for drone delivery of lab specimens from FirstHealth Convenient Care — Pinehurst and FirstHealth Internal Medicine to the Moore Regional Hospital laboratory.
FirstHealth is the second health care system in the state to use drones for lab delivery.
The pilot launched May 12 and was created, in part, to discover if drone delivery has the potential to improve turnaround time for patients’ test results, save time for hospital staff and to assess how easily the delivery system can be implemented at FirstHealth.
Drone delivery units in the United States grew 55 percent in 2022, with nearly 35,000 total delivery units by the end of the year. By the end of 2023, the global drone delivery service market is expected to be valued at 359.6 million dollars, the American Journal of Transportation reported.
“We are thrilled to be at the forefront of this innovative technology,” said Mickey Foster, chief executive officer of FirstHealth. “Our goal at FirstHealth is to always provide the highest level of care to our patients while also improving efficiency and reducing costs. By utilizing drone technology, we can do both. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”
Josh Barnes, director of innovation and strategic partnerships at FirstHealth, said drone delivery has the potential to improve both patient experience and employee workload.
“Right now, laboratory couriers must visit all clinics on a given pickup route before returning specimens to the MRH lab for processing,” he said. “They come back with a carload of lab specimens from many locations, and the lab sees a huge influx of volume all at once, which can be challenging for their team. We’re hopeful this pilot will prove drone delivery is beneficial to both our employees and patients by evening out workload and improving turnaround time.”
Average drone deliveries, with two miles or less to travel, may take as little as two to three minutes. There is also less chance of specimen damage or contamination.
FirstHealth partnered with Causey Innovation Unmanned, Inc., a drone delivery operator based in North Carolina, for the program. The company is one of five drone air carriers certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Jeff Causey, chief operating officer of Causey Innovation Unmanned, said he’s seen success with drone deliveries in retail and health care spaces.
“Causey Aviation Unmanned uses the revolutionary Flytrex drone delivery system to transform the delivery and accessibility of health care products within health systems and directly to patient homes,” he said. “Retail customers can use the Flytrex app to access meals and consumer items in select communities in North Carolina and Texas. We are thankful for the support we receive from the NCDOT and FAA under the FAA BEYOND program, and for our innovative partnership with FirstHealth of the Carolinas to advance UAS logistics in health care.”
Barnes said if the program is successful, FirstHealth could expand drone delivery to other service areas within the system. FirstHealth serves many rural populations that would benefit from faster lab drop-off, as clinics tend to be more spread out in these areas.
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