Medical Drone Flights Coming to Smith Island - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Medical Drone Flights Coming to Smith Island

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Zipline International drone. (Photo: Zipline International) Zipline International drone. (Photo: Zipline International)
Smith Island. (Photo: WBOC/Chopper 16) Smith Island. (Photo: WBOC/Chopper 16)

SMITH ISLAND, Md. - In the coming months, people living on Smith Island will have new and quick access to their medical prescriptions.  The White House approved a pilot program this week for drones to make medical deliveries to three locations in the country, including Smith Island.

This is the announcement from the White House made on Tuesday:

"Using unmanned aircraft to deliver critical medical supplies to improve health access in hard-to-reach areas: Zipline International, with the support of EllumenASD Healthcare, and the nonprofit Bloodworks Northwest, will demonstrate the viability of unmanned aircraft technology in disseminating critical care supplies to remote communities in the United States. The demonstrations will deliver lifesaving blood, medicine, and medical products to remote communities in the states of Maryland, Nevada, and Washington, including in Indian reservations and their surrounding communities, within six months of regulatory approval. The preliminary missions identified include: Crisfield Clinic, Crisfield; Maryland to Smith Island, Maryland; Reno ASD Healthcare Distribution Center to Pyramid Lake Tribal Health Clinic and/or VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System, Nevada; and Bloodworks Northwest Bellingham Facility or Lummi Reservation to San Juan Islands, Washington."

Zipline International will be supplying the Crisfield Clinic, and Dr. Kerry Palakanis, with a drone to deliver medicine to islanders.

"We're a perfect locale for doing rural project development because the population is willing to participate number one, but also, out unique characteristics are really replicable in other places," said Dr. Palakanis.

The pilot drone program will also be done at locations in Nevada and Washington, but Dr. Palakanis said Zipline officials are committed to Smith Island being the first to see the medical flights.  Being able to deliver prescriptions to islanders in just minutes will be life-changing for some on Smith Island.

"Let's say they have bronchitis, or an upper respiratory infection that needs antibiotics, we can make the diagnosis with our telemedicine equipment, but we don't have a pharmacy on Smith Island.  So with the drone capability, we would make the diagnosis with telemedicine and make the delivery, even if the boats are not running," said Palakanis.

Dr. Palakanis is visiting Smith Island this weekend to discuss logistics but believes making the deliveries to central locations in each village on the island is the best idea.  The fire departments are the lead contender as a drop-off location.  Dr. Palakanis called this program "revolutionary," bringing more medical care to an area where it's hard to come by.  

Also, Dr. Palakanis said Zipline International is footing the bill for the program, meaning deliveries are not expected to cost islanders anything.  If all goes according to plan, the first drone flight from Crisfield to Smith Island could take place late this year or in early 2017.  Before the first flight can be made, Zipline International needs to obtain a waiver for their drones from the FAA.

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