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UPS Drone Services To Take Flight at CVS, Kaiser Permanente, and More

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   October 21, 2019

Four healthcare organizations announce agreements with UPS to test unmanned flights to accelerate service and innovation.

Less than three weeks after the Federal Aviation Administration certified a UPS subsidiary to operate a drone airline, it appears that healthcare organizations are lining up like jets on the tarmac, ready to pilot unmanned test flights. Today CVS Health, Kaiser Permanente, University of Utah Health, and wholesale pharmaceutical distributor AmerisourceBergen announced agreements with UPS Flight Forward, the UPS subsidiary dedicated to drone operations.

UPS also announced formation of a business unit dedicated to healthcare, as well as special technology services to help healthcare customers better track sensitive drone shipments.

The healthcare sector is its primary target as UPS rolls out this novel delivery service.

"Drone transport will improve speed and consistency of deliveries, enhance access to care, and create healthier communities," UPS said in a statement to HealthLeaders.

One of the greatest benefits to health systems is faster turnaround of lab results, according to UPS. Compared to using conventional couriers to transport samples, drones can reduce transport time from hours to minutes. "Using drones to bring blood and other diagnostic specimens from medical facilities to central labs will provide faster, more predictable turnaround of test results, and provide opportunities to lower costs," the company says.

Four healthcare organizations announced agreements with UPS today:

  • Antibiotics and other drug supplies might soon be flying overhead. CVS Health Corporation, a subsidiary of CV Pharmacy, will work with UPS to evaluate delivery of prescriptions and retail products to the homes of CVS customers, as well as test other use cases.
  • Kaiser Permanente plans to transport healthcare supplies between buildings on its 39 hospital campuses via unmanned drones.
  • AmerisourceBergen will collaborate with the drone airline to transport certain pharmaceuticals, supplies, and records to qualifying medical campuses served by AmerisourceBergen across the United States, Later expansion includes flights to other sites of care.
  • In partnership with Matternet, University of Utah Health will employ drones to deliver lab samples and other cargo similar to a program launched last March at WakeMed Hospital in North Carolina.

In the statement to HealthLeaders, UPS says this expansion to University of Utah health makes sense as the company sees key growth opportunities in several targeted areas including home healthcare, direct-to-patient services, lab specimens, clinical trials, and medical devices.

In a separate development, also announced today, UPS is launching new tech-enabled solutions to help healthcare customers better track sensitive drone shipments, as well as the formation of a new business unit: Healthcare and Life Sciences Customers (HCLS).

The UPS Premier product line will provide differentiated levels of service for healthcare customers, according to a news release. This new portfolio will provide comprehensive priority-handling services for chain of custody, time-dependent, and temperature-sensitive packages to help increase on-time reliability. This solution will retrofit UPS’s facility network with smart, IoT (Internet of Things) systems to track healthcare packages. These solutions should be available during the first quarter of 2020.

Regarding the new healthcare business unit, “UPS HCLS works collaboratively with UPS Flight Forward unit for current and future drone operations," says Dan Gagnon, vice president of Global Healthcare Strategy at UPS. Among other elements, the company's healthcare strategy is designed to "empower innovation to help our customers improve logistics processes and patient outcomes," he says.

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.

Photo credit: Courtesy UPS


CVS will test delivery of prescriptions and retail products to customers' homes.

Kaiser Permanente will use unmanned flights to transport healthcare supplies between buildings on 39 hospital campuses.

Drones offer faster turnaround of lab results and may also have applications related to home healthcare, direct-to-patient services, clinical trials, and medical devices.

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