Skip to main navigation Skip to main content
The University of Southampton
Public Policy|Southampton

Quantifying the welfare benefits of drone logistics: the case of healthcare provision by drone


Drones are increasingly being seen as a potential new freight mode to assist health care service providers with the collection of patient diagnostic samples and the delivery of blood stocks and pharmacy to clinics and hospitals. With business-as-usual logistics practices in this domain centred around van fleets, drones provide several potential benefits in terms of speed of carriage, reduced carbon footprint and the scope to respond more dynamically in a more patient centric care structure.

Despite the concept of transporting medical products by drone gaining a lot of interest amongst the medical and logistics communities, the study of the economics of drone logistics has received little attention. The aim of this project is to quantify the welfare costs associated with the transportation of patient samples by drone compared to those of using business-as-usual logistics.

The empirical study will rely on the combined use of drone costs data gathered from field research and information on samples obtained from two large UK hospitals (Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth and St Mary’s Hospital, Isle of Wight). This large set of data would enable the computation of a full costing structure (both monetary and welfare costs) and enable us to determine the opportunity cost of using drones in place of other transport modes (e.g., vans, cars, ferries).

So far, private sector initiatives that considered the commercial use of drones solely included standard monetary costs (infrastructure costs, maintenance costs) and economic benefits of the use of drones when doing their costings estimations before deciding whether to invest in them.

However, applying this basic costing framework to the case of healthcare provision misses a number of costs and benefits of using drones: the increased speed of carriage ensured by drones has benefits in terms of lives saved, diagnosis done quicker, and lower levels of waste of drugs that have a short shelf-life. Hence, using a welfare perspective would help understand whether using drones for medical logistics is sustainable not only economically, but also environmentally and socially.

The use of drones for healthcare provision is an under-researched domain which is not yet given full consideration in a holistic way by regulators, governments and industry bodies. This is in part due to the fact that drones are not considered to be commercially viable.

However, the contribution of drones to medical logistics is two-fold: firstly, drones could offer benefits in terms of reduced service times. Moreover, their lower energy use and atmospheric emissions compared to more traditional modes constitute strong arguments in favour of their implementation. As such, drones constitute a more sustainable way to provide healthcare services thanks to its lower environmental impact.

In addition, the contribution of drones in medical logistics is particularly important in areas where hospitals, clinics, doctors’ surgeries and laboratories are hard to reach by existing surface transport: as such, drones constitute a unique means to provide healthcare to those who are the more vulnerable and the most excluded in the society.


The output of this project is to create a report that will be disseminated to a large audience constituted of both academics and healthcare practitioners. From an academic point of view, the aim is to encourage the use of welfare analysis as a decision criteria to ensure that transport initiatives are more sustainable. The dissemination of our results to NHS practitioners would help motivate the wider use of drones for medical purposes.

Moreover, there is also scope for future research since the benefits of drones could also be extended to include supply chains for veterinary services, with unmanned aerial vehicles offering similar potential benefits.

Project Lead

Privacy Settings