An innovative partnership of Virginia for-profit and non-profit organizations, including Old Dominion University’s Virginia Institute for Spaceflight and Autonomy (VISA), recently conducted a successful launch of a groundbreaking healthcare initiative – funded by a U.S. Department of Transportation Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grant – utilizing drones to provide vital hypertension medical supplies to patients on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
The first round of this pilot project delivered medication to the homes of three patients who live within a 2-mile radius of Onancock’s Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital on Oct. 10.
VISA has played an important role in management, health outcomes modeling and simulation and workforce development for the Elevating Health Care Access (EHCA) project. The partners are also working with the local flying community to make sure they are comfortable with notification systems when sharing the skies with drones.
VISA also partnered with the Hampton Roads Biomedical Research Consortium to provide health care data analytics and modeling and simulations for this project.
“We are so proud to be part of this great team and have the opportunity to improve patient outcomes on the Eastern Shore,” VISA Executive Director David Bowles said.
The $1.877 million grant was awarded in April. The SMART program provides funding to eligible public sector agencies to conduct demonstration projects focused on advanced smart community technologies to improve transportation efficiency and safety. The project marks a significant step forward in using drone technology to improve access to healthcare resources and enhance patient care by delivering medications straight to the patient’s doorstep.
It was one of 59 proposals out of a nationwide pool of 389 applications and the only application from Virginia to be awarded.
In addition to VISA and the Riverside Health System, DroneUp and the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission (A-NPDC) are partnering on the project. The Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC) provided a $75,000 grant for the project’s initial funding, which enabled the team to jump start the exploration of use cases, concepts of operations and Eastern Shore community engagement efforts.
“We are very excited for the Eastern Shore,” said Brayden and Luetta Tyler, residents of Onancock who took part in this pilot delivery. “There are so many people that live in underserviced communities or areas where it’s difficult to get medicines, so for them to be able to have something delivered instead of seeking transportation to get those, it would be great. We’re also very happy that Riverside is looking into new, innovative ways to service that community.”
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common and potentially life-threatening condition that affects millions of individuals globally. Eastern Shore residents have a higher prevalence of hypertension than the rest of Virginia, which is why this project is focused on reaching patients in this area. DroneUp’s delivery can carry supplies of up to 10 pounds on a regular schedule so patients are never without their prescription.
“Ensuring our patients have access to their essential medications is a top priority for Riverside,” said Nick Chuquin, president of Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital. “This collaborative project helps to improve our patients’ health and quality of life by increasing medication adherence and removing transportation barriers. We are also focused on safety in all aspects: keeping the medications safe, such as temperature ranges, chain of custody, and double checks to make sure the right patient gets the right medication.”
“Delivering hypertension medications is just the beginning of what we envision for the future of healthcare and drones,” added DroneUp CEO Tom Walker.
After this successful first patient delivery, the team plans to demonstrate more extensive and further-distance delivery and beyond visual-line-of-site operations, eventually transporting medications to Tangier Island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.
“This team is working closely with localities through the A-NPDC and our federal partners to complete this Stage 1 award by the end of 2024,” VISA Deputy Director John Costulis said. “When completed, this team is planning to operationalize medical package delivery across the entire Eastern Shore of Virginia, which will revolutionize a new transportation approach and access to healthcare.”
To learn more medical services offered by Riverside on the Eastern Shore, visit riversideonline.com. For more information on the Elevating Health Care Access (EHCA) project, visit https://visaatodu.org/elevating-health-care-access-project/.
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