UC San Diego Health to use drones to test air delivery of medical samples


UC San Diego Health will test whether it can safely use small flying drones to quickly transport medical samples among its facilities in a project meant to reduce the time patients have to wait for blood test results and treatment.

The test, which begins in mid-February, will be confined to buildings at and near the university’s sprawling hospital and health sciences complex in La Jolla.

If the experiment is successful, UC San Diego Health eventually could seek permission to use drones to transport samples, supplies and documents to its network of clinics, and possibly to its large hospital in Hillcrest.

“This is a proof-of-concept test,” said Matthew Jenusaitis, chief of innovation and transformation at UC San Diego Health.


“We want to improve the patient experience and reduce health costs. It can take ground couriers 20 to 30 minutes to transport samples to sites more than a mile away. With a drone, we’d be able to do that in two to three minutes.”

UC San Diego will initially use the drones to transport dummy payloads between Moores Cancer Center and Jacobs Medical Center. If successful, it will then test fly medical samples, supplies and records between those sites and to the Center for Advanced Laboratory Medicine, about 1.5 miles north of Jacobs.

The drones will remain below 300 feet in altitude to avoid interference with aircraft. They will be monitored by humans but will fly preprogrammed routes, the university said.

UC San Diego Health is collaborating with United Parcel Service, which recently received permission by the Federal Aviation Administration to use its Flight Forward commercial drone service to deliver payloads on hospital and university campuses.

UPS is attempting to create the nation’s first “drone airline.”

Additional drone testing programs are expected to arise in San Diego, which was designated as a special drone testing region by the FAA.

San Diego County is home to Northrop Grumman and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, two of the nation’s largest developers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). UC San Diego also is heavily involved in UAV research, and its Scripps Institution of Oceanography has done pioneering work with submersible drones.

Robbins writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.