Riverside Health partners to deliver medication by drone to patients in Virginia

A Virginia-based partnership is to deliver medical products to patients who live on the Eastern Shore and adjacent Tangier Island by drone for the medical services company Riverside Health. Partners include Riverside, DroneUp, Virginia Institute for Spaceflight & Autonomy (VISA) at Old Dominion University (ODU), the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission, and the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC).

In 2022, the partnership submitted a medical drone delivery project entitled, Drone Medical Package Delivery for Improved Transportation and Better Patient Outcomes, to the U.S. Department of Transportation for funding support. The project was one of 59 proposals awarded funding through the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grants Program out of a nationwide pool of 389 applications. This project was the only application in the Commonwealth of Virginia to be awarded a SMART Grant during the inaugural year of the program.

The medical cargo drone delivery project is divided into two categories; stage one: planning and prototyping and stage two: implementation. During stage one, Riverside will begin utilizing medical cargo drones from DroneUp, a leading autonomous drone delivery platform and drone services provider, to test and plan for the delivery of prescription medications to patients living in rural areas on the Eastern Shore, particularly for remote communities such as Tangier Island. Once stage one is successfully complete, the partnership will move into stage two, implementation, where medical cargo drones will be deployed from Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital (RSMH) delivering medications to a patient’s doorstep. As drones depart RSMH, the patient and Riverside’s care teams will be able to track delivery of medications in real time. At the launch of the project, Riverside will focus on delivering hypertension medications as the Eastern Shore has a higher preponderance of hypertension than the rest of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“We are excited to see the first medical cargo drone take flight from RSMH in May,” says Nick Chuquin, President of Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital. “The Eastern Shore is a unique geographical area with a rural make-up that can pose accessibility challenges for patients in need of prescription medication. We know that drone service delivery to our patients living in rural areas of our community will not only improve access to medications but also improve patient outcomes and overall health.”

The medical drone delivery project on the Eastern Shore was organized last fall with initial funding from VIPC’s Unmanned Systems Center. VIPC has supported other pilot projects in Virginia utilizing unmanned systems. In 2020, it teamed with DroneUp to determine the effectiveness of delivering test kits by drone to stop the spread of the Coronavirus.

The medical drone delivery project on the Eastern Shore will improve the overall health care experience for patients by delivering their prescription medication to their doorstep. The partnership is working closely with the Department of Transportation (DOT) to finalize documentation and begin project work on June 1, 2023.

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