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Online pharmacy tests drone delivery, despite 'regulatory challenge'

A drone carrying medicines during a MedExpress test flight in May
A drone carrying medicines during a MedExpress test flight in May

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

7 Comments
Question: 
Would you consider swapping a delivery driver for a drone?

Brent Cutler, Manager

I was under the impression that it is not legal to fly a drone in a highly populated built-up area, also as far as I am aware as a drone owner, if I can't see it I can't be sure I have control over and therefore risk prosecution under current legislation.

Also, even the most sophisticated drones can only manage 30-40 mins flight time. It's cheaper and better to use a van. 

Mark Boland, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Anybody with a brain can see this is a stunt. The owners of the company are obviously hoping  that the tabloid press take up this story and so provide free national publicity. Anything to get a brand into the mind of the consumer and more importantly an association with convienence.

Mr CAUSTIC, Community pharmacist

 sorry I misunderstood.   I do not think a drone ie bee could drive a delivery van so no I would not swap ! would be very dangerous. 

 Definition of drone. 1 :a stingless male bee (as of the honeybee) that has the role of mating with the queen and does not gather nectar or pollen. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

It makes me wonder why the rest of us have SOPs in abundance that say we cannot deliver if the patient is not at home to sign for receipt if this is "the future". Don't get me wrong - delivery of a book by drone is fine, but as been said already, what if it crashes in the wrong garden - so, we have breach of information governance; failure to supply in a timely manner; supply to the wrong person.

Can't wait!

Mr CAUSTIC, Community pharmacist

Great idea ! cds by drone ! What happens when it crash lands in the wrong garden !  Are all these ideas being floated as publicity stunts. Nurses dressing supplies by drone as a replacement for a driver. Is it April 1st ?

Perhaps Alliance can deliver my drugs from head office when their computer systems crash next time along with every one elses in London. Air traffic control might not like that one . Retrain redundant pharmacists as air traffic controllers as opposed to my normal suggestion of LT underground drivers . With all these drones flying they are going to need more.

 

Amjad Khan, Senior Management

Still going to need someone to operate the drone manually.. So rather have a driver.. no brainer

Pharmacy Tech, Pharmaceutical Adviser

No

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