Consumer / Employer, Health Tech

Amazon Starts Delivering Medications via Drone

Amazon Pharmacy is now offering a drone delivery service for prescription medications in College Station, Texas. The service is free and allows patients to receive their medications within 60 minutes.

Amazon Pharmacy is working to speed up prescription medication delivery in College Station, Texas, through its free drone delivery service, the company announced Wednesday. With drones, Amazon said prescriptions can be delivered within 60 minutes.

Customers in College Station can sign up for the drone delivery service by scheduling a free yard consultation, in which a local yard survey specialist will come to customers’ homes and examine their yards. If the specialist determines that the yard is suitable, then Amazon will provide a marker where the drone can deliver packages. Then when eligible customers order their medications, they can select drone delivery at checkout.

The service is available for more than 500 medications that treat common conditions, such as flu, asthma and pneumonia. These medications include Levofloxacin, Bactrim, Atorvastatin and Levothyroxine. For many of these conditions, swift access to treatment is vital, but that doesn’t always happen, said Dr. Vin Gupta, chief medical officer of Amazon Pharmacy. He noted that there is a “golden window” after a patient is diagnosed with a condition when treatment is most effective.

“Time to treatment matters, especially when someone may have an acute illness like pneumonia,” Gupta said in an email. “Too often, as the last three years have shown, rapidly connecting patients with diagnostic services and treatment quickly is littered with challenges, from getting a timely appointment, to obtaining seamless testing, to ultimately receiving a prescription.”

The drones fly at an altitude of 40 to 120 meters, where there are “minimal obstacles,” Amazon said in its announcement. They have sensors and cameras that help navigate around people, pets and power lines. Once the drone is at the customer’s home, it will lower itself to the delivery marker, drop off the prescription, and then rise back up and fly back to the delivery center.

“Our drones fly over traffic, eliminating the excess time a customer’s package might spend in transit on the road,” said Calsee Hendrickson, director of product and program management at Prime Air, in a statement. “That’s the beauty of drone delivery, and medications were the first thing our customers said they also want delivered quickly via drone. Speed and convenience top the wish list for health purchases.”

While drone delivery for medications is starting in College Station, Amazon Pharmacy plans to expand the service to other locations in the future, Gupta said.

The launch of the drone delivery service for prescriptions comes after last year’s launch of Amazon Clinic, which provides virtual treatment for 35 conditions, and Amazon’s nearly $4 billion purchase of primary care company One Medical. Amazon Pharmacy also recently unveiled RxPass, which offers more than 50 generic drugs for $5 a month for Prime members. In addition, the company recently began offering automatic coupons for diabetes products.

While Amazon has launched several healthcare initiatives over the years, it has also shuttered several, including Amazon Care, Amazon Halo and Haven. During a panel discussion last week at Engage at HLTH, one Amazon executive addressed these unsuccessful efforts.

“It’s true that not everything we put out is going to be Amazon Prime and Amazon Studios,” said Dr. Nworah Ayogu, general manager and chief medical officer of Amazon Clinic. “Every initiative that we put out lets us learn and grow so that the next thing we put out works well. I think that if you look at us in healthcare, there are more businesses that we’ve started that are active than in the reverse.”

Photo credit: Amazon