Zipline, a California based robotics company, has demonstrated huge potential in Rwanda. The question remains whether they, or companies similar to them, will be able to impact healthcare delivery at large in remote areas. Designed to allow public health care systems to make deliveries of critical medical supplies when other avenues of access are unavailable, Zipline has partnered with the United States Postal Service and the Ministry of Rwanda in order to deliver blood with their fixed-wing drones.
Rwanda’s lack of infrastructure along with a relatively high rate of postpartum hemorrhage made them a prime candidate to test this on-demand blood delivery. The fatality rate of postpartum hemorrhage is 15 times higher in Rwanda than it is in the United States. Additionally, the strict temperature requirements of blood coupled with the lack of a reliable supply chain means that these deaths are often a result of women not receiving blood in time for a transfusion.
Orders are received via text message or cell phone call and delivery hubs can fulfill 100 drops each day. Once the operator packs the order a QR code is scanned providing a route to the drone. The drone then flies automatically and drops the payload within a designated zone which is the size of three parking spaces.
This service could easily expand to other developing countries that experience high fatality rates from due to a lack of medical supplies caused by missing or compromised supply lines. Additional future applications of this technology may include global vaccination campaigns, disaster relief deliveries and humanitarian assistance operations.
Will drone delivery of critical medical supplies extend beyond developing countries and disaster situations in the developed world? Is there a place for drone delivery in an area where supply routes are established and clear? The value is clear when the drone can deliver blood days faster than any other method, but how does one determine when drone delivery is adding value or increasing patient outcomes? Does getting blood to a patient 5 or 10 minutes earlier justify the additional cost? As this method of delivery becomes available it will be interesting to watch how other stakeholders in the world of healthcare respond.