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How drones will revolutionize healthcare supply chains

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When UPS recently became the first company certified to fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of operators, we vowed that it was just the beginning.

Today, with numerous game-changing announcements, we’re living up to that promise as we mark the next chapter in UPS’s flight into the world of drones — and reshape both the healthcare and retail landscapes.

We’re taking our groundbreaking drone logistics program to the University of Utah Health campus in Salt Lake City. The service, which first launched at WakeMed’s flagship hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, will expand to the Utah hospital campus this quarter, utilizing Matternet's unmanned drone system to transport medical products.

The drone expansion in Salt Lake City aims to provide a quicker, more reliable method for transporting medical samples between healthcare locations, resulting in benefits like quicker lab results and faster treatments.

UPS Flight Forward will now begin drone flights at the University of Utah Health campus in Salt Lake City.

But that’s not all

UPS Flight Forward is also making its retail debut. We’re exploring the delivery of prescriptions and retail products to the homes of CVS Pharmacy customers. Under our joint agreement, CVS will work with UPS Flight Forward to provide drone service in business-to-consumer operating models, helping us jointly reach customers when and where they need us.

AmerisourceBergen, a leading global healthcare solutions provider, will deploy the UPS Flight Forward drone airline to transport certain pharmaceuticals, supplies and records to some of their medical campuses across the United States. For context, the company now distributes medicines to 95 percent of hospitals across the country through a network of 27 distribution centers.  

And finally, Kaiser Permanente will use the UPS Flight Forward drone airline in a pilot program to transport certain healthcare supplies between buildings at medical campuses in its 39-hospital network. 

With each of these major drone innovations, we’re redesigning supply chains and revolutionizing the delivery of medical and retail products with new speed, precision and efficiency. With an assist from drones, we’re paving the path to a day when healthcare professionals can serve more patients and do so with fewer and fewer obstacles.

This is good for business and good for public health. It’s a win-win that demonstrates the power of business collaboration in tackling our greatest challenges as a society.

A view across all industries

At UPS, we have a view across practically all industries. And we see that many of the foundational Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies are disrupting every level of the supply chain.

This is especially true in healthcare, where every second truly matters and could mean the difference between life and death. It’s why we’ve made numerous innovations to move packages through our network even faster while expanding capacity to meet the demands of 21st century healthcare.

It’s also why we rolled out today a new business unit formation and technology-enabled network services. These moves will enhance the customer experience and bring unprecedented new levels of visibility, control and quality assurance to the healthcare supply chain, as well as strengthen our service reliability.

UPS® Premier is a new critical healthcare product portfolio that uses next-generation sensor and tracking technology for superior accuracy. Learn more at ups.com/healthcare.

Multiple next-generation sensor technologies will support prioritized flow paths, sortation and delivery services for critical healthcare shipments. These new solutions provide the most comprehensive priority-handling services for chain of custody and time-dependent and temperature-sensitive packages to help increase on-time reliability.

This is just the latest transformation of our healthcare services. We’ve already introduced specialized identifiers on packages to distinguish healthcare parcels from other items, giving those products the highest level of visibility in our network.

This visibility extends into our drivers’ DIADs so they can identify healthcare packages during their routes and make instant decisions to deliver those items at the exact right moment.

In other words, our teams and our technologies are ready and able to meet new healthcare needs as they arise. We can monitor packages in real time in our operating centers through improved visibility solutions — all rooted in our Global Smart Logistics Network.

This network is helping us do two major things: Meet the need for speed in the healthcare space and expand capacity so we can provide our customers the level of service they need to satisfy the healthcare demands of tomorrow.

Dual challenges

As supply chains get faster and more flexible, UPS leaders are leaning into two challenges: How will we deliver the customer experience of the future? And how will we take advantage of technology to enable those experiences?

Drones help us meet both challenges. By using this technology, we can shift from offering mass services to customized services tailored to each customer’s unique needs.

UPS has already established itself as a leader in unmanned aerial vehicle delivery. We’ve tested drones for urgent commercial deliveries above water; funded and supported humanitarian deliveries in Africa; and tested commercial residential delivery in rural areas with drones launched from a UPS package delivery car.

This is certainly exciting, and it’s natural to imagine a day when drones fill our skies. But don’t overlook the reason for these groundbreaking innovations: Ultimately, we’ll help those on the frontlines of healthcare and retail deliver better results.

It’s not about the technology itself. For UPS, it’s about the solution the technology enables.

We’re building a supply chain that is more responsive to the needs of healthcare professionals, patients, retailers and the businesses that serve them.

If you want to know where healthcare and retail are heading, just look to the sky.

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