Romanian private medical services company MedLife has partnered with the Australian company Skyy Network, to introduce drone delivery services to routinely transport biological samples over medium and long distances.
Deliveries will be carried out from four localities – In Bihor County (Aleșd, Beiuș, Marghita, Salonta) to Oradea, and Arad; in the future, MedLife plans to expand the project nationwide.
With a 120 km length, the route particularly between Oradea and Arad is among the longest drone flight route for medical samples in Europe, says the press release.
The MedLife project has received the approval of the Romanian Civil Aeronautical Authority (RoCAA), as well as the Public Health Directorate in Bihor and Arad County and that of the Ministry of National Defence.
After almost three months of tests and preparations, the first flights with real samples from patients have already been carried out. MedLife says the operations half delivery times compared with ground transportation, with test results available the same day for all standard tests.
The average duration of a transport load flight time is around 19-28 minutes each way, respectively less than one hour between Oradea and Arad. The drone cruises at a speed of approximately 122 km/h. This represents a time saving of more than 50% compared to land transport, at the same time adding greater efficiency in collection and delivery by the autonomy offered by the system.
As a result, MedLife manages to offer its patients quicker results, by cutting the response time from 24h to same day, for 76% of the laboratory tests.
“The decision to introduce this transport system was based on a preliminary analysis, by which we found that there are a series of important advantages at the operational level, which allow us to streamline the activity to the benefit of our patients. With the lowering of the sample delivery duration, avoiding delays generated by traffic, and increasing the number of samples that we can process, we can guarantee our patients the rapid delivery of results for a broad spectrum of laboratory services. In fact, patients will receive same-day results for most tests. All this leads, implicitly, to the opportunity of faster diagnostic endeavours and treatment. In addition to these, we are also talking about a sustainability initiative, by integrating a lower carbon footprint transport alternative compared to vehicle transport” stated Dr. Robert Beke, Executive Director of the Laboratory Division of MedLife Group.
Long distance flights
The first flight routes were created between Bihor and Arad counties and they connect the collection points from the localities Beiuș, Aleșd, Marghita and Salonta with the labs of MedLife Oradea and MedLife Arad. Specifically, the samples collected at the collection points are transported by drone to the Oradea and Arad labs, depending on the type and complexity of the analyses.
The new transport system introduced by MedLife leverages 3 Swoop Aero Kite drones, fitted with state-of-the-art technology and market leading software, permitting predictive airworthiness via a digital twin. The aircraft are fully autonomous, with one pilot being able to monitor multiple drones at once. The human touch comes into focus only for the loading and unloading of samples. The local medical teams from the 4 collection points, as well as from the MedLife Oradea and MedLife Arad laboratories have been trained and certified by the Skyy Network team for their role-specific aircraft handling.
“We are very pleased to bring one of the most novel transport systems to Romania and are glad to find in MedLife a motivated partner, with a common vision towards innovation and the future. After almost 3 months of preparation and flight tests, we carried out the first flights with real samples from patients in the safest possible conditions, and the system is now fully operational. Beyond the satisfaction related to the technological firsts which this project brings, locally and at the European level, we are motivated by the fact that our work contributes to an increased quality of life for Romanian patients”, noted Rory Houston, CEO and Co-Founder of the company Skyy Network.
Future plans: expansion of the drone transport system at national level
MedLife further announces that it will start to make new steps towards the expansion of the number of locations, by including, en route, collection points in Arad, Hunedoara, Mehedinți, Gorj, Timiș and Caraș-Severin counties. Drones will cover sample transfers between collection points located outside cities in a proportion approaching 100%, thus replacing the ordinarily used ground transportation vehicles.
This is just the first stage of the larger plans set by the MedLife Group for the development of their Laboratory division, which, in the medium term, targets the expansion of their transport system at the national level, as well as the expansion of the product range for air transport. According to company representatives, product range diversification would encompass sanitary materials, medicines, or biological products, which are necessary as an emergency, but also as routine, within the network, and in the public system.
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