In the health care 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) test 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 aim of the project is to enable drones to provide faster transport of medical equipment, biological tests and in the long term health staff compared to the currently available transportation options. The project will test drone transport through so-called “air corridors” between OUH’s hospital units in Odense, Svendborg and Aeroe.
The project expects to be able to transport blood samples and medical equipment from A to B in less than an hour, where it currently takes an average of 12 hours to move samples from a clinical department to the central laboratory for analysis. When samples arrive faster for analysis, the diagnosis can be given faster and treatment initiated faster, and we can avoid undue isolation of patients with potentially contagious infections and reduce the need for broad spectrum antibiotics.
When special equipment is transported to remote clinics or even the citizen’s own home, local health staff can conduct examinations, which would usually require at trip to the nearest hospital. The project will also test whether a special type of drone can transport highly specialised doctors if operating rooms at other hospitals have acute challenges.
The drone technology is fully developed, so the project focuses on developing infrastructure and missing components such as containers suitable for airborne transportation of biological tests.
The initial test flights took place already in 2020 in the airspace above Denmark’s national drone testing centre at HCA Airport just outside of Odense. The next step is to test flying beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in a corridor between Aeroe, Svendborg and Odense. In this context, the Danish Transport Authority has issued permits, and the drones have safety systems which enable them to fly as safely as regular airplanes.
In addition to being test site for the test flights, OUH is leading the early assessment of the project based on the newly developed model EARTH. 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 expects that using drones for transportation of blood samples can reduce 12 hours of transport to only 45 minutes. The project estimates that if the transportation of blood samples is handled by drones, it entails a financial potential of 27 million Euro for the Danish hospitals. The assessment will challenge and examine the assumptions and logic behind the expectations and assess whether sound knowledge replaces opinions and if risk is reduced during the course of the project. The early assessment based on the model EARTH will indicate if the expectations are realistic.
Kjeld Jensen Iben Fasterholdt
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.