Regular drone service between 21 Belgian hospitals
From 23 September, the Helicus company will start a regular drone transport service once a week between 21 hospitals from Antwerp and the surrounding area. The crewless aircraft will transport tissue, samples, medicines, and blood. And from December, all the locations of the Jessa Hospital in Limburg will also be added.
In case of emergency
“The drones will not only transport tissue,” says general manager Mikael Shamim, who is also a pilot himself. “Blood, samples, and medicines are also included. We start with one day a week, but the intention is that in the short term we will be able to use a drone immediately in the event of an emergency.”
The interface for direct communication with Skeyes, the independent public company that regulates air traffic in Belgium, meanwhile is ready. “In the event of urgent transport, we can immediately send a flight request and depart within five minutes. In recent years, we have been able to use this to help shape all procedures and regulations, certainly also in terms of safety.”
The drones, extensively tested in DronePort, a test site in Sint-Truiden, Limburg, will be controlled by an operational team of ten people from the control center in The Beacon at Sint-Paulusplaats, Antwerp, near the MAS Museum. They will fly between 90 and 150 meters high and will be barely visible and certainly not audible when they fly between the 21 hospitals of the three Antwerp networks, ZNA, GZA, and Helix.
“We map out the routes in such a way that the drones will mainly fly over roofs and as little as possible over squares and streets,” says Shamim. “And we must not forget that aviation is the safest form of transport. The risk of an accident is many times lower than it would be if we had to transport all these things by road.”
Earlier this year, a drone for medical transport fell from the sky on two different occasions in Switzerland, which raised the question of the safety of these aircraft. “No one was injured in those accidents,” explains Shamim. “Also, Helicus works with different technology.” For your information: Helicus is using an aviation-grade SABCA/Dassault drone and is using the Unifly UTM platform.
“If there is an incident in aviation, there is open communication about it,” Shamim continues. “We have received the detailed reports and can learn from the mistakes of others.”
Because health care costs are skyrocketing, the Belgian government has forced hospitals to work more efficiently and to form networks to avoid that all these hospitals offer the same services. For example, since last year, the Antwerp hospital networks GZA and ZNA have shared a single laboratory for pathological anatomy, where the patients’ cell and tissue material is examined to be able to make diagnoses.
A lot of transport from all the other hospitals to that one lab, in the Middelheim Hospital, is therefore required. However, the roads in the city are often full, and because valuable time can be lost, Helicus has devoted itself in recent years to the development of a fixed drone connection between all these hospitals.
Helicus has also agreed with the German city of Ingolstadt and will support the city and the region of Bavaria in its challenges with its medical and drone process.