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Idea Drones for medication delivery and directly observed therapy

By Rostislav Mitrofanov | 05 Dec, 2014

Idea submitted by: Rostislav A Mitrofanov, MD

Using flying robots/drones for medication delivery to patients (with tuberculosis, for example) with possibility of directly observed treatment and patient direct communication with medical specialist. The drone can be programmed to locate mobile signal from a targeted patient and to deliver itself to him/her. Installed equipment will provide medications and visual control about intake (if needed).

Currently, it seems crazy, but a personal smartphone 7 years ago was the same type of dream...
More and more patients undergo treatment in outpatient settings and their treatment adherence (especially for TB patients) is a very complex well-known and recognized problem - medical, financial, ethical, etc. Drones will get cheaper and smarter and they will be an extension of the health care system to each patient.

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Rostislav Mitrofanov Replied at 9:36 AM, 9 Dec 2014

This is the future not only for emergency treatment, but for chronic illnesses too. Excellent idea! With whom it might be discussed?

David Eisenberg Replied at 10:11 PM, 9 Dec 2014

I am a first year medical student, and I also agree that is the future. Or least has the potential to be the future. I would also be very interested in engaging in this conversation further.

A/Prof. Terry HANNAN Advisor Replied at 10:15 PM, 9 Dec 2014

David, as a "bright young thing" why not throw some of your ideas onto the 'page' for us older persons to look at and even learn from?

Soe Htut Aung Replied at 12:39 AM, 10 Dec 2014

I would suggest to put a red-cross logo on drones, otherwise it may difficult to convince the patient to accept the service :)

A/Prof. Terry HANNAN Advisor Replied at 12:43 AM, 10 Dec 2014

Soe, and who would return it or possibly use it for other purposes? Also what is the carrying capacity limt? The need for refirgeration-specimesn/medications. I reviewed a paper on thsi topic recently in the use of drones in remaote villages in Afganistan and Pakistan.

Soe Htut Aung Replied at 2:49 AM, 10 Dec 2014

As I heard the word 'DOT', patient would be the first thing to consider...then family...and providers at the latest. In this way, patient's acceptability will be the entry point (especially when we see USAF drones when we search 'drone' in Google search). In terms of technology, I believe that it will happen in the near future (since we are considering for Christmas gift delivery this year). Admittedly, I am not expert in this subject but just caught by the topic.

A/Prof. Terry HANNAN Advisor Replied at 2:53 AM, 10 Dec 2014

Soe, throw your ideas in the "ring" because this is what these discussions are about. We ALL learn from people like yourself.

David Eisenberg Replied at 6:41 AM, 10 Dec 2014

Hi Terry,

Thank you for the shoutout! More pharmacy's are starting to deliver medications now. However, I think that a big benefit of a drone could be that it could have a video chat on it, like was mentioned, and the pharmacist could interact briefly with the patient and answer any concerns, as well as the patient could sign their signature on the drone's screen to say they have received the script as well as a consult if it was desired. Another option is to have the video chat aspect through the smart phone. However, in more developing countries that would be more difficult where less people have access to smart phones.

This could also be used for over the counter medications. Of course you can have them shipped, but I could foresee advancements in drones being cheaper than a postal service. Also, they could be a quicker method of delivery if delivered from a local pharmacy.

Overall, I think that drones have the ability to be more interactive in terms of video chat capabilities, as well as make life easier for those who have trouble making it to a pharmacy.

Even inside people's houses drones could have a benefit. At some point people will own person drones. These drones could have attachments to them where people can store an epi-pen, or glucose, as two quick emergency care medications I can think off of the top of my head. Since people usually have their phone on them they could send out a help signal via their phone to the drone to come and deliver them emergency meds to them when necessary.

Just a few thoughts, I hope this helps!

A/Prof. Terry HANNAN Advisor Replied at 6:24 PM, 10 Dec 2014

David, this is good input. Re your statement "in more developing countries that would be more difficult where less people have access to smart phones", it raises the issues as to whether we "need" smart phones for some of the health delivery services required.
If you see the short video below you can see how "older" mobile technologies can be "adapted". Also by the end of 2015 the WHO anticipates that >90-95% adults in the world will have a mobile device. Will all these be "non-smart phones"?
MDRTB Pakistan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1N8236ReWnM
A second comment here is on the other communication issues you raise. Would not Telehealth enhancements (internet/satellite) be more stable and effective than drones?
Do not get me wrong, I think the drone technology will have great benefits I just think we need to bridle our enthusiasm and think a little more clearly about the best ways to use it.

Nicola McHugh Replied at 4:22 AM, 11 Dec 2014

There must be potential for using this technology to improve health in remote locations. Drones could carry specimens from remote clinics as well as delivering medication or equipment. Security would have to be considered. How far could a drone travel?

A/Prof. Terry HANNAN Advisor Replied at 4:30 AM, 11 Dec 2014

Nicola, all the questions you pose are tantalising for us all to seek answers to. A paper I reviewed recently on a proposed research project raise these issues and more.
Specimens: secure containers, refrigeration, cross contamination, timing (labile organisms and substances).
Distance: I think this is an evolving parameter as the technology evolves. I am sure the distances will become longer and longer.
Medications: security, etc.
Dual flight paths: I found in the research paper that this may be an issues as it may depend upon the recipients re-launching the drone.
I am sure there are many more questions but none are unresolvable.

Rostislav Mitrofanov Replied at 8:22 AM, 11 Dec 2014

Dear Colleagues, thank you for feedback!
Of course, the drone is not from USAF (it should be something like a tetrahopter with Red Cross or Red Crescent on its container), but, ironically, it exercises the same idea - a machine is cheaper then a person.
Technology already allows to make it safe to people and to other drones/robots. Brilliant idea (!) to use tetrahopter for return transportation (of sputum, documents, etc).
Dear Prof Hannan - I will appreciate greatly your share of related published papers!
In developemnt of your prompt suggestion - in vast areas of Asia the MainTB lab can manage a lot of other lower level baclabs via drones/tetrahopters to supply them with substances/documents and getting back samples (frozen or otherwise preserved and in night time for morning work).
As nuclear energy started from killing people in Hiroshima and now providing electricity/heat to people, so drones might switch from delivering rockets and intelligence to health care provision. Military manufacturers would be more then happy to such conversion ))

Rostislav Mitrofanov Replied at 8:25 AM, 11 Dec 2014

It might be a good start-up )) (cross section with pharmaceuticals, military and IT! ) Let's do!

A/Prof. Terry HANNAN Advisor Replied at 3:41 PM, 11 Dec 2014

Hi Rostislav, thank you for your feedback. First of all I am in favour of any technologies that facilitate the delivery of care, particularly in remote regions. With lateral thinkers like yourself problems can be resolved.
About the papers. I do not have any published papers and my earlier comments were related to an invited review of the design and implementation of a research project using drones. I provided the young researcher with some feedback that encouraged him and his colleagues to consider several factors in the study. I believe they are reformulating the study design following the interactions.
Your comment about the switch from military aims of technology to population health care delivery is relevant for all of us. The cost of one stealth bomber can provide a lot of well-directed infrastructure to low and middle income nations. The "societal" aspects of health care. It is not all medications and surgery.

Rajan Dewar Replied at 2:41 AM, 12 Dec 2014

Most of the discussions seem to center around medication delivery and management. I think there is immense application in the diagnostic side. I am a pathologist from Boston, MA.
We (a non-profit named Ivy for India and a charity, Udhavum Ullangal - helping hearts) run a cervical cancer screening program in South India, where we have developed 3 labs for Pap smear based screening over the last 4 years. Thirunelveli (I am mentioning the names so that a drone expert can google map it for distances and assess practicality) sees most patients; Staining of the rapidly fixed air-dried specimen is done at Thiruchirapalli or Erode. The cytoscreener is available to screen at another location (Thiruchirapalli / Erode / Thirunelveli). But the most important transportation link is - slides need to be signed off by the only pathologist for this program at Ooty near Coimbatore. These places are about 1-2-3 courier days apart. While so far everything is going on well through the courier system, and as such we don't have a problem with Turn around time, I think the drone system will be immense to apply in our laboratory program. We batch about 50-100 slides in a secure wooden or plastic box, we can batch more (or less to optimize drone fuel costs, if needed) - no liquids - only glass slides. Occasionally cervical biopsy specimen (fixed). Our program focuses a lot on cost optimization, thus, we got our Pap smears at ~1$. The drone costs will be compared to existing method (courier).
When we presented our work on our program at ASCP (American Society of Clinical Pathology), someone did approach us about a year back - but we thought it was crazy at that time, and we shrugged the drone idea. If a real developer wants to implement it in our program or test trial this with fake slides and study feasibility, please contact us: or ; We don't currently have a grant to cover or even buy a drone (how much does it cost, anyways?), but can offer an immediate proof of principle through our program. I think there will be even more applicability in remote areas or hilly terrains in Northern & eastern India where clinics are not so well connected through roads.
A recent Wall Street Journal article suggested the FCC will publish rules regarding drones in US in December. Any updates?
Does anyone know rules regarding drones in India?
Rajan Dewar & Vinita Parkash

Marie Connelly Replied at 7:27 PM, 12 Dec 2014

Rostislav, thank you for sharing this idea—it's clearly been a topic of great interest for all of us.

David, the idea of epi-pen drones is quite fascinating—having worked with patients and caregivers in the severe food allergy community, I can see how how something like this could be extremely appealing.

I was recently reading about the potential for drones to provide emergency medical care and wanted to share the article below, as it seems relevant to many of the examples discussed, and may give some sense of the potential for use in remote regions:

Attached resource:

Lygeia Ricciardi Keynote Speaker Replied at 4:46 PM, 15 Dec 2014

Rostislav --

I really like this idea. Another advantage of involving drones in participating in health care through a variety of potential roles is that they can help people with highly contagious conditions while minimizing the risk of human exposure. A cool "out of the box" idea!

Jennifer Joe Replied at 7:35 PM, 15 Dec 2014

Fascinating. This was one of the finalist ideas at the athenahealth hackathon.

A/Prof. Terry HANNAN Advisor Replied at 11:56 PM, 5 Jan 2015

Marie, even though most of the discussion has been completed this video was sent to me today.

Attached resource:

This Community is Archived.

While this community is no longer active, we invite you to review and recommend past posts and resources. Membership for this community is closed, but we hope you'll join us in one of the many other communities on GHDonline.

Moderators of Technology for Patient Engagement and GHDonline staff