Michigan Medicine will soon deploy drones to deliver prescriptions to homes in Washtenaw County

In this photo provided by Zipline, a drone makes a package drop during a demonstration at Zipline's Northern California hub in 2021. Zipline, an American company that specializes in using autonomously flying drones to deliver medical supplies, has taken off in Japan. (Zipline via AP) (Uncredited, Zipline)

ANN ARBOR – It’s a bird ... It’s a plane ... It’s your neighbor’s prescription drugs flying overhead via drone.

This will be a reality for hundreds of thousands of Michigan Medicine patients living in Washtenaw County in 2024, when the health system will launch its new home delivery service using drones.

Ann Arbor-based Zipline will provide its autonomous, electric drones and next-generation platform to help Michigan Medicine deliver medications quickly and quietly.

Whether you live in a urban, suburban or rural areas, Zipline’s home delivery service is so precise it can deliver to a patio table, according to a release. The drone service has the potential to deliver up to seven times faster than deliveries made by car, and can complete 10-mile deliveries in roughly 10 minutes.

Michigan Medicine aims to expand access for patients of its specialty pharmacy services with rare or complex diseases through the partnership.

Michigan Medicine hopes it will be able to fill twice the amount of prescriptions it does in a year via its in-house pharmacy.

“By deploying Zipline we are able to make deliveries faster than ever before, saving time for both patients and our medical workers, enabling faster, affordable, pharmacy care that leads to better patient outcomes,” CEO of Michigan Medicine Marschall S. Runge said in a statement. “We are always looking for innovative, sustainable improvements to serve our patients. We’re thrilled to soon provide the next frontier of care to our patients with Zipline.”

According to a release, Zipline’s drones are designed to sound like the wind rustling leaves and are barely audible. Michigan Medicine will be one of the first providers to use the drones for delivery, which can fly day or night and in any type of weather.

The world’s largest commercial autonomous delivery system, Zipline has completed more than 540,000 deliveries worldwide and its drones have flown more than 40 million commercial miles.

The drones will be based at Michigan Medicine’s specialty care pharmacy in Dexter, which is set to open this year. The autonomous devices can fly up to 24 miles one way and have a 10 mile service radius per dock. Multiple docks are being installed in the area to ensure the vehicles can meet demand on the ground.

Michigan Medicine patients will be able to track their packages in real time on Zipline’s app or website.

“Together with Michigan Medicine we are improving the healthcare experience by bringing prescriptions and medical needs right to patients’ doorsteps,” CEO and co-founder of Zipline Keller Rinaudo Cliffton said in a statement. “With Zipline, getting prescriptions will be faster, more convenient and more sustainable than ever before.”

“Once live, our patients will be offered the option to receive their home delivery via drone, or continue receiving packages via traditional vehicles,” chief innovation officer for Michigan Medicine and chief operating officer for pharmacy Dana Habers said in a release. “Zipline’s technology is also smart enough to identify addresses as eligible or not based on trees, distance, and other potential real world challenges.

“We look forward to working with a company who is as committed to and innovative in their approach to serving the community’s health care needs as we are. This is an opportunity to not only have a positive impact on the environment, but also results in quicker service for our patients, helping make sure they have their prescription in hand when they need it.”

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.