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Online pharmacy tests drone delivery, despite 'regulatory challenge'

The delivery of medicines by drone presents a “regulatory challenge”, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has suggested.

Commenting on online pharmacy MedExpress's trial drone flight earlier this year, NPA chief pharmacist Leyla Hannbeck said: "The NPA is supportive of new technology, where it improves access to care."

"But there are profound clinical benefits to face-to-face interactions between patients and healthcare professionals," she told C+D last week.

"The human touch in healthcare must never be lost," she stressed.

"While general drone deliveries might not be far away, delivery of medicines by drone presents a far greater regulatory challenge," Ms Hannbeck added.

Waiting for the green light

MedExpress's director told C+D he is waiting for a response from regulator the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to its application to use drones to deliver medicines.

Dwayne D’Souza hopes the CAA will approve the application in the “next two [to] three years”, he told C+D earlier this month (September 7).

“Amazon are going to be pushing for [drone deliveries], so we'll just piggyback on their efforts,” he predicted.

Mr D'Souza said his lawyer had informed him there is “nothing” in medicines legislation to prevent “autonomous delivery”, but the pharmacy must ensure the medicine arrives undamaged, having been stored at the correct temperature.

MedExpress was advised by the General Pharmaceutical Council to speak with the NPA, but it will not do this until it has secured CAA approval, Mr D'Souza added.

Like "driving on a cold day"

If the service receives regulatory approval, the medicines would be flown in a waterproof, insulated box, containing a temperature monitor and video link, Mr D'Souza explained.

“We're not flying very high, so the temperature is not much different to ground level – if you pick up your medicines while you're driving to the pharmacy on a cold day, [the temperature] is going to be similar.”

When MedExpress flew a drone “about 500 metres” in a test run in May, the medicine's temperature “wasn’t affected adversely”, though Mr D’Souza predicted the company would need to take account of extreme weather conditions.

Morning-after pill delivery

The drones could be especially useful for time-sensitive items such as the morning-after pill and migraine medicine, he said.

Patient confidentiality would be protected by making the delivery look “like any other package”, he added.

Mr D’Souza acknowledged that drones are “quite expensive”, but said he believes it “works out cheaper” than the cost of one delivery driver’s annual wage.

Watch the MedExpress drone's test run

Video credit: MedExpress

Would you consider swapping a delivery driver for a drone?

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