If you live in a city’s downtown core, you might take for granted how easy it is to fill a prescription. There’s a pharmacy every couple of blocks and many of them are open 24 hours a day. But if you live a rural community or more-remote corner of British Columbia, it can be a long drive to life-saving medications. If the drug you require is new or expensive, you might even have to wait several days for it to be delivered from the nearest urban centre.
In a first for Canada, London Drugs recently completed a successful test of new technology that could help bridge this gap between urban and rural access to medicine.
On August 19, the retail chain partnered with InDro Robotics and Canada Post to use an unmanned-aerial vehicle—a drone—to transfer an Epi pen and the overdose-reversal drug naloxone from Duncan, B.C., to the Country Grocer on Salt Spring Island.
“The ability to provide medications to patients in remote areas that would otherwise have to travel hours to obtain pharmacy service is significant in so many ways. In the very near future we will be able to provide delivery of prescription medications to an abundance of areas not accessible by vehicle,” Chris Chiew, general manager of London Drugs’ pharmacy division, said quoted in an August 29 media release.
The 27.4-kilometre drive from Duncan to Salt Spring takes more than an hour by car, and can take a lot longer than that if you don’t time your arrival at the ferry just right.
London Drugs’ drone made its six-kilometre flight in just 11 minutes.
The test was especially notable because it involved a flight over a large body of water and constituted Canada’s first “beyond visual line-of-sight” delivery of pharmaceutical products.
“The delivery of prescription medications by drone to rural areas will be of great advantage to communities across the country including Northern Canada and as well to hospitals in remote communities where drones can land on hospital Heli pads,” InDro Robotics’ Philip Reece said quoted in London Drugs media release.
Going forward, Transport Canada will analyze the test-flight’s data and use it to help craft guidelines and regulations for beyond visual line-of-sight drone operations.