Zipline might soon be able to hold the title of operator of the largest-scale drone deliveries in the U.S.. The California-based drone delivery company this week announced plans to deliver prescriptions and other healthcare products to people’s homes in the Salt Lake City area. What’s especially significant about the Zipline U.S. expansion is that deliveries will be possible anywhere in a 50-mile radius of its launch location, rather than the couple-mile radius seen in many other drone delivery efforts.
For this Zipline U.S. expansion, it’ll partner with Intermountain Healthcare, which is a Utah-based, not-for-profit system of 24 hospitals, operating in Utah, Idaho, and Nevada. The project is set to begin in early 2022, while actual deliveries are set to launch by midyear.
Zipline says it anticipates making hundreds of deliveries per day within a few years, able to reach approximately 90% of patient homes in the Salt Lake City metro area. For now, it’ll start with delivery of specialty pharmaceuticals and home care products. Eventually, it’ll scale to be able to deliver a range of medications and products, including prescriptions, specialty pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter items.
The service is expected to be available to Intermountain Healthcare patients who live within a 50-mile radius of Zipline’s Salt Lake-area distribution center.
Zipline’s delivery drones are not quadcopters, but rather small, fixed-wing drones. The aircraft is entirely electric, and packages are gently dropped via quiet, parachute packages to an area about the size of several parking spaces.
“Intermountain Healthcare shares our vision of powering telemedicine with instant logistics. Patients can connect with providers from the home, and then receive the medications and supplies they need in a matter of minutes, directly to their doorsteps,” said Keller Rinaudo, co-founder and CEO of Zipline. “For example, a cancer patient could receive her medication without ever leaving her home. Or a single parent could get his child’s antibiotics without a trip to the pharmacy. Instant access to care is not just about convenience. It comes down to making healthcare more equitable, efficient, and reliable for people, regardless of where they live or their circumstances.”
While it’s unclear what drone deliveries of medical products might mean for the bottom line for healthcare costs, Intermountain Healthcare has a history of providing high-quality services at fair, transparent costs. The group was established in 1975 when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints donated its 15-hospital system to the communities they served and asked Intermountain to administer those hospitals. Since then, it has grown, and drawn praise from leaders. Former U.S. President Barack Obama called the company a model for healthcare services.
“We have long known that some places, like the Intermountain Healthcare in Utah or the Geisinger Health System in rural Pennsylvania, offer high-quality care at cost below average,” Obama said.
Healthcare spending per capita in Utah, which is primarily served by Intermountain Healthcare, is 44% below the national average.
Experts do anticipate that drone delivery will at least improve speed. And if time is money, then that’s worthwhile.
“Making access to healthcare faster and more convenient will lead to better health outcomes for our patients,” said Marc Harrison, MD, president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare. “And with Zipline, we’re making the idea of true care at home a reality for many of our patients.”
Zipline has a long history of success, medical-related drone deliveries, having recently announced that it has completed more than 200,000 commercial deliveries. The company began more than five years ago operating primarily in rural parts of a few countries in Africa. It also has plans to soon launch operations in Japan and Nigeria.