MedLife to Transport Lab Samples with Drones

MedLife has collaborated with Skyy Network to launch Europe's longest drone flight route for medical samples, a 120km circuit in Bihor county, reducing delivery time of biological samples by more than 50% By Joe Macey / 14 Nov 2023
MedLife to Transport Lab Samples with Drones
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MedLife, the largest network of private medical services in Romania, has introduced a drone transport system for biological laboratory samples. 

With this initiative, carried out in partnership with the Australian company Skyy Network, MedLife becomes the first private medical operator in Romania and Central and Eastern Europe to use drones to transport laboratory samples and one of the few medical operators in Europe that currently transports biological samples over medium and long distances.

The transfers will be carried out within 4 localties, in Bihor county (Aleșd, Beiuș, Marghita, Salonta) to Oradea and Arad. With a length of 120km, the route between Oradea and Arad is said to currently be the longest drone flight route for medical samples in Europe. The company is planning to expand the project nationwide in the near future.

MedLife’s logistics partner, Skyy Network, is an Australian company with extensive expertise in unmanned aviation, which provides services and solutions to integrate drones into the business processes of companies.

The MedLife project benefits from the approval of the Romanian Civil Aeronautical Authority, as well as the approval of the Public Health Directorates of Bihor and Arad counties and the Ministry of National Defense.

After almost three months of tests, the first flights with real patient samples have already been carried out.

“Along with the expertise and training of our doctors and specialists, obtaining a high-performance medical certificate is based, at the same time, on technological means. As part of our mission to provide the best patient care, we are constantly investing in modernizing the MedLife Group with state-of-the-art equipment, whether it’s surgical robots, ultrasounds, laboratory equipment and more. All this openness to innovation, but also the courage to experiment, have helped us to consolidate our position as a market leader, at the same time putting our shoulder to the modernization of Romanian medicine. We are proud to strengthen our status as a pioneer in the field and bring the future of medicine closer to the present. We have already successfully carried out the first flights of biological samples with the drone, and this success gives us confidence in the future plans outlined in this direction,” said Mihai Marcu, CEO and President of MedLife Group.

50% more time saved compared to land transport enables the release of test results on the same day

The average transport time from the first collection points to Oradea is around 19-28 minutes each way, respectively less than an hour between Oradea and Arad. The drone flies at a speed of around 122 km/h. This means a time saving of more than 50% compared to ground transport, while also adding the additional options of pick-up and delivery through the autonomy provided by the system.

As a result, MedLife is able to provide patients with results faster, shortening the response time for 76% of the range of laboratory tests.

“The decision to introduce this transport system was based on a preliminary analysis, through which we found that there are a number of important advantages at the operational level, which allow us to make the activity more efficient for the benefit of our patients. By reducing sample delivery times, avoiding traffic delays, and increasing the number of samples we can receive and analyze, we can guarantee patients the rapid release of results for a wide range of laboratory services. In fact, patients will receive same-day results for most tests. All this leads, implicitly, to the chance of a faster diagnosis and a timely treatment, the main objectives that guide our activity. In addition to all this, we are also talking about a sustainability initiative by integrating a transport alternative with a lower carbon footprint compared to motor transport,” added Dr Robert Beke, Executive Director of the MedLife Group Laboratories Division.

Europe’s longest medical logistics drone flight route

The first flight routes were created between Bihor and Arad counties and they connect the collection points from the localities of Beiuș, Alesd, Marghita and Salonta with the labs of MedLife Oradea and MedLife Arad. Specifically, the samples collected at the collection points are transported by drone to both the Oradea and Arad laboratories, depending on the type and complexity.

With the launch of drone transport on the Oradea – Arad route, which is 120km long, MedLife is aiming to put Romania on the map of innovation, by creating the longest drone flight route for medical logistics within Europe.

State-of-the-art technology for the benefit of Romanian patients

The new transport system introduced by MedLife includes 3 Swoop Aero Kite drones, equipped with state-of-the-art technology and high-performance software, which allow samples to be transported in complete safety. The aircraft are fully autonomous, with a single pilot being able to monitor several drones simultaneously. The human factor intervenes only for the loading and unloading of samples. The local medical teams from the four collection points, as well as from the MedLife Oradea and MedLife Arad laboratories, have been properly trained by certified specialists from the Skyy Network team.

“We are very excited to bring one of the newest transport systems to Romania and we are glad to have found in MedLife a motivated partner with a common vision, oriented towards innovation and the future. After about 3 months of preparations and tests, we have carried out the first flights with real patient samples, in full safety conditions, and the system is now fully operational. Beyond the satisfaction related to the technological firsts that this project brings, on a local and European level, what motivates us the most is the fact that through our work we contribute to increasing the quality of life of patients in Romania,” added Rory Houston, CEO and Co-Founder of the Skyy Network company.

Future plans: Expanding the drone transportation system nationwide

MedLife also announced that it will initiate new steps to expand the number of locations, by including, en route, collection points in Arad, Hunedoara, Mehedinți, Gorj, Timiş and Caraş-Severin. Drones will cover transfers from collection points located outside the city to a proportion of almost 100%, thus replacing the vehicle transport, which is commonly used.

This is, however, only the first stage of the wider plans established by the MedLife Group for the development of their Laboratories Division, which, in the medium and long term, aims not only to expand this transport system at national level, but also to expand the range of products transported by air. According to the company’s representatives, the diversification of the product portfolio would include sanitary materials, medicines or biological products, which are needed as an emergency, and also routine, within the network, and in the public system.

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