Drones to carry medical samples for Turnhout hospital


Pilot project will make medical services more efficient and reduce environmental impact

Hospital wings

Turnhout will begin a pilot project in September that uses drones to transport medical samples between hospital sites. The aim is to make hospital services more efficient and to avoid adding to the pollution and congestion on the city’s roads.

AZ Turnhout is spread over several sites in the city, with medical samples such as blood and tissues frequently moving from one to another for analysis. Usually this is done by courier.

With a drone, “there are no traffic jams and no delays on busy roads, which ultimately means that the patient will have to wait less time for a diagnosis or life-saving medication,” said Duncan Walker, managing director of Skyports, which is providing the drones for the project.

Fly me to the lab

The one-month pilot project will begin by transporting medical samples from hospital wards to the laboratories. Later on, drones may also be used to move drugs and other supplies around the city. The project will also look at connecting AZ Turnhout with other hospitals.

“With the establishment of various hospital networks in Flanders, we will have to co-ordinate much more in future,” said Griet Braekmans, facilities director at AZ Turnhout. “With drones we can deliver customised patient care and enable better collaboration between hospitals.”

The project also has the backing of Turnhout City Council. “Urban air mobility is still new in Belgium, but we believe it can play a role in smooth and sustainable mobility,” said Marc Boogers, city councillor responsible for mobility. He also said that seeing drones overhead should come as no surprise to the general public. “We will inform the residents thoroughly before the flights start.”

The Turnhout project is part of an EU Urban Air Mobility initiative, involving 42 cities throughout Europe. If the results are positive, it could lead to permanent drone operations on a larger scale.

Photo courtesy Skyports