In the healthcare sector, time is crucial when it comes to giving a diagnosis, initiating treatment or delivering special equipment to a certain location at the hospital. Odense University Hospital (OUH) and the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) are testing if drones may be the means for more efficient hospital logistics. The HealthDrone project was initiated in January 2019, and it is the first time that drones are used for hospital logistics at a Danish hospital.
The project tested drones for faster transport of medical equipment and biological samples compared to currently available forms of transport. The project had to test drone transport via so-called “air corridors” between OUH’s hospital units in Odense, Svendborg and on Ærø.
The drone technology as such is fully developed, so the project was about developing infrastructure and missing components such as transport boxes suitable for airborne transport of biological samples.
The first test flights took place in 2020 in the airspace above Denmark’s national drone test centre at HCA Airport just outside Odense. The drones were then tested in flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in a corridor between Ærø, Svendborg and Odense. In this connection, the Danish Civil Aviation and Railway Authority has issued permits, and the drones are equipped with safety systems so that they fly as safely as ordinary planes.
In addition to being test site for the test flights, OUH lead the early assessment of the project based on the newly developed EARTH model. EARTH is a tool for early realistic assessment of the value of new innovative technologies at hospitals (EARTH is an abbreviation of Early realistic assessment of innovative technologies in hospitals).
The project expected that using drones for transportation of blood samples could reduce 12 hours of transport to only 45 minutes. The project estimated that if transportation of blood samples is handled by drones, it could entail a financial potential of 27 million Euro for the Danish hospitals. The evaluation task was, among other things, to challenge and examine the assumptions and the logic behind these expectations as well as assess whether opinions and estimates were replaced by more sound knowledge, and whether the risk decreased over time in the project. The early evaluation using the EARTH model will give an indication of whether the expectations were realistically achievable.
Some of the project’s most important results are:
- an early evaluation of the consequences in clinical, patient satisfaction, financial, technical and organisational areas.
- analysis of the most significant barriers to using drones in healthcare.
- a long series of test flights – a total of over 5000 km and 160 hours. At the end of the project period, the drone flew the entire distance from Svendborg Hospital to Ærø Hospital.
- testing of drones and drone technology.
- 11 peer-reviewed publications published and more on the way
There is a scientific article on the way about the evaluation’s conclusions.
End: September 2022
The project partners are the Drone Centre at the University of Southern Denmark, which also accomodates UAS Denmark drone testing centre, and the companies Holo, Falck A/S, Unifly and Scandinavian Avionics A/S.
HealthDrone has received financial support of 1.8 million Euro from the Danish Innovation Foundation (Innovationsfonden).