First Rx Drone Delivery Completed by CVS, UPS

November 14, 2019
Christine Blank

Prescription drone delivery services will be a chain-shipment showdown.

CVS Health made its first prescription drone delivery via UPS this month, while Walgreens is testing drone prescription delivery with FedEx. Is delivering scripts via drones a viable delivery option for drugstore chains in the future?

Drone delivery has several advantages over traditional truck delivery. Retailers are looking at increasing consumer convenience with home delivery, but they can do it in a much more urgent basis than traditional mail order pharmacy,” Ash Shehata, national sector leader for the Healthcare & Life Sciences Practice at KPMB, tells Drug Topics.

Drones are also less expensive than vehicles to operate and provide more flexibility to fly a drone to a particular location, “rather than deal with traffic and the individual matters of a driver’s route,” Shehata says.

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While Walgreens is involved in a pilot drone project with FedEx, CVS Health was the first to actually delivery a prescription to a private home in Cary, NC, via UPS Flight Forward drone, Reuters reported. The second drone flight delivered medications to a public space at a retirement community.

In September, Wing Aviation LLC announced a collaboration with FedEx Express and Walgreens to launch a drone delivery service in Christiansburg, VA, in October. “The pilot program will demonstrate the many benefits of drone delivery to communities by exploring methods to enhance last-mile delivery service, improve access to health care products, and create a new avenue of growth for local businesses,” note FedEx and Walgreens in a statement.

Vish Sankaran, chief innovation officer for Walgreens Boots Alliance, said it would be “the first US retailer to offer an on-demand commercial drone delivery option in the US, allowing us to explore another omni-channel offering for the delivery of products and services our customers want and need-wherever, whenever, and however they may want them.”

“With this pilot, Walgreens will be in a unique position to capitalize on the convenience of drone delivery if and when it should expand, with approximately 78% of the US population living within five miles of a Walgreens store,” Sankaran adds.

Addressing whether CVS, Walgreens, or another retailer will be the leader in drone delivery, Shehata asks “who can navigate the regulatory landscape to make this a standard business practice across a variety of markets?”

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Since the Federal Aviation Administration has requirements tied to the commercial use of drones, regulatory changes will be necessary for prescription drone delivery to become broadly adopted,” Shehata says. "State and local laws also apply to drones for both commercial and recreational purposes. A lot of laws also are aimed at preventing drones from flying over private property without consent.”

Beyond retail pharmacy, there’s an additional opportunity for drones in the market for deliveries and inventory management for physicians and hospitals, Shehata says. “It can make ‘just-in-time’ inventory management closer to real-time, allowing for a more productive use of working capital.”