Photo from Amazon Pharmacy (aboutamazon.com)
Amazon Pharmacy has recently announced the launch of its first drone deliveries as a significant step forward for the healthcare sector. The service is facilitated by Amazon’s Prime Air drone service, which has been under development for over a decade.
“We’re working hard at Amazon to narrow the golden window from diagnosis to treatment dramatically, and drone delivery marks a significant step forward.” – Dr. Vin Gupta, Chief Medical Officer of Amazon Pharmacy.
Introduction of Drone Deliveries
Amazon Pharmacy’s drone deliveries are expected to be completed within 60 minutes of placing the order. This new service has initially been rolled out in College Station, Texas. The company plans to expand the service to other cities but has not specified any timeline or locations.
Despite the “Prime” branding, this drone delivery service is open to all customers, not just those with Amazon Prime membership. The service covers around 500 medications, including those for flu, asthma, and pneumonia, and is free to use.
Progress and Challenges of Prime Air
The Amazon Prime Air drone service has been a slow burner for the company. First initiated in 2013, the program was first delivered in England in 2016. In 2020, Amazon secured approval from the Federal Aviation Authority to trial the service in the U.S.
However, a series of regulatory and technical issues have hindered any significant rollout since then, with only around 100 deliveries logged as of May 2023. This slow progress has led to Amazon lagging behind some of its major competitors, such as Walmart, which has already made tens of thousands of drone deliveries in partnership with third-party providers.
Benefits and Future Prospects
There is a clear rationale behind adding drone delivery to Amazon’s pharmacy service. For customers who are unwell and need help to collect their prescriptions in person, drone delivery presents a quick and easy solution. Furthermore, it complements Amazon’s existing healthcare services, such as Amazon Clinic and One Medical, offering virtual and in-person primary care services.
Amazon’s drone delivery service also presents significant business advantages. Delivery trucks have high associated costs, from labor to operation and insurance of the vehicles. By contrast, drone deliveries could dramatically reduce these costs.
The operation in College Station is based around a pharmacy that Amazon opened in the town. This pharmacy oversees the medications and loads them onto the drone immediately outside the pharmacy. This model presents an exciting opportunity for Amazon to work with other pharmacies not owned by Amazon and offer similar drone delivery services to them in the future.