By Kristi O’Connor | May 27, 2020 at 5:22 PM EDT – Updated May 27 at 8:47 PM | WBTV.com
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – Novant Health will soon deliver personal protective equipment to its hospitals by drone. The venture marks the first emergency drone logistics operation by a hospital for its pandemic response in the country.
The FAA granted Novant Health approval to deliver personal protective equipment by drone as part of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program.
In partnership with Novant Health, Zipline will provide drone flight services. Personal protective equipment and critical medical supplies will be transported from Novant Health’s fulfillment center in Kannapolis to Novant Health Huntersville.
The routes may expand to other Novant Health facilities in later phases.
The drones can carry up to 4 pounds of cargo and can travel 80 miles per hour, according to Novant Health. The drones will drop the cargo at a safe distance from the ground so that there is no contact between carriers and front line workers.
“In the case of a horrific surge, heaven forbid we encounter that. I don’t believe we will in Charlotte but we need to prepare for a number of futures. You can start to imagine how this sort of on-demand, drone-based, point specific drone delivery could be very important to our team members.,” Novant Health Executive Vice President and Chief Digital and Technology Officer Angela Yochem said.
The operation was fast-tracked because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Yochem believes the drones will be of use to the medical community even after the pandemic is over.
“Imagine a scenario where your digital health encounter with your physician which was something that happened in your home resulted in the prescription of a pharmaceutical,” Yochem said. “Now you have this lovely home-based virtual visit and you still have to get out and get in your car or hop on a bus and get to the pharmacy.”
Yochem added, “This potentially overtime, assuming the regulatory requirements allow for it, we might be able to just drop that medicine at your door within 10 minutes at the completion of your virtual visit.”