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October 6, 2022

'The future is here': Inside Intermountain's new drone delivery program

Daily Briefing

    Intermountain Healthcare on Tuesday announced the start of a program that will deliver certain medications and products to consumers via drone as part of its partnership with drone delivery company Zipline.

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    Details on the program

    Zipline's drones are fixed-wing aircraft that are six feet long with an 11-foot wingspan and weigh about 40 pounds. The drones can transport packages up to four pounds while traveling 70 mph.

    The drones fly on their own, however current regulation from FAA require a human to monitor the drone's entire flight. The drones also have redundant flight systems built in that can be manually overridden if necessary.

    According to Intermountain, the drone delivery program will initially only be available to Intermountain patients in the South Jordan area of Utah. However, the drones have a flight service range of 50 miles, and Intermountain said within five years it will extend the delivery program to around a third of Utah's population.

    The program will initially focus on delivering specialty pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter products, but the list of deliverable products is set to expand in the future, Intermountain said. The program could eventually include lab specimens flown from patients' homes to Intermountain facilities as well as items flown between Intermountain facilities.

    Allison Corry, Intermountain's chief supply chain officer, said during the initial phase of the program, Intermountain will cover all costs of drone delivery. However, she anticipates drone delivery won't be more expensive than ground delivery.

    "Longer term, we think it will be more cost advantageous. We think this will be part of our normal network and be cost competitive with what we're doing these days," she said, adding that drones "don't take vacations and they don't stop for traffic lights."

    A 'game changer'

    According to Corry, the new program is the next logical step for Intermountain, which has been managing supply chain and logistic operations on its own for more than a decade.

    "This is not future technology," Corry said. "This is here and available to us at this moment and, from a logistics perspective, a game changer for us more broadly."

    "The future is here," added Zipline’s chief regulatory officer, Conor French.

    Zipline also considers the program to be more environmentally friendly than traditional ground delivery, as its electric-powered drone flights produce 98% less pollution than transporting by gas-powered vehicle.

    Corry added the program is "[t]he next evolution … of us staying ahead of our competitors and market in the health care supply chain space."

    Intermountain's drone delivery program combined with its telehealth services could eventually eliminate the need for in-person visits and going to the pharmacy, according to Gordon Slade, Intermountain's associate VP of supply chain logistics.

    "This partnership allows us to reach patients faster than we ever thought possible, at a time that's convenient for them," he said. "Combined with our telehealth services like Connect Care, it's possible to virtually see a doctor and get medication you need delivered from Zipline, without having to travel to a clinic or the hospital." (Raymond, Deseret News, 10/4; Fitzpatrick, Salt Lake Tribune, 10/5)

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