Riverside Health System will begin using cargo drones to deliver medication to patients’ doorsteps

April 24, 2023
medical cargo drone

Riverside is excited to announce a new partnership with 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) to begin delivering prescription medications to patients who live on the Eastern Shore and adjacent Tangier Island. 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.

“We are always looking for innovative ways to provide care for our patients,” says Sally Hartman, Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Riverside. “This partnership provides us with the opportunity to support patients in more rural communities by improving access to prescription medications with fast at-home delivery.”

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. 

"VIPC’s mission is to support game-changing market development initiatives, such as this medical drone delivery service for Riverside’s patients on the Eastern Shore,” Tracy Tynan, the director of the Virginia Unmanned Systems Center at VIPC, said. “VIPC concentrates on investing seed funding during the early stages of technological innovation to stimulate and accelerate economic growth, which increases vital resources for communities throughout the state.”

VISA’s role in this project will be overall project management, health outcomes Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation, and workforce development in support of the Accomack- Northampton Planning District Commission, who was the submitting organization for this grant.

“The drone delivery project truly embodies our mission to ignite growth, talent, and innovation at ODU, our region, and the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Dr. David Bowles, Executive Director of VISA. 

“We’re really excited to be part of revolutionizing transportation of critical medical supplies in rural and other areas for those who really need it and to provide emergency first responders with a safe way to better access and assess hazardous or crisis situations,” added John Costulis, VISA Deputy Director.

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.

To learn more medical services offered by Riverside on the Eastern Shore, visit riversideonline.com/shore.