Medical drone makes house calls in the remote mountains of Virginia

VIRGINIA -- The drone delivery business had what some are calling its "Kitty Hawk moment" on Friday -- in reference to the town made famous by the Wright Brothers when they became the first humans to fly.

In the mountains of central Appalachia, about 3,000 people are flocking to this year's free health care clinic in Wise County, Virginia. Many here come every year because it's the only health care they get.

But this year there's a new guest.

One of the first federally approved delivery by drone. Guided by GPS and using drone drop technology, it brought multiple shipments of prescription drugs that were delivered to about a dozen patients, including Bob and Shirley Woodward.

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Tracking the medical drone being tested out in rural Virginia.
CBS News

People up in the mountains have a hard time getting their medicines.

"Yeah they do," said Shirley. "They have to drive an hour at least to get to the pharmacy."

Friday's deliveries were from an airport only a mile away. It was a demonstration to show what's possible. In the future, the plan is to deliver medicine and medical supplies right to the front door of a remote patient in need.

"The utility of us being able to get a medication out to a patient in these rural mountainous areas would just be tremendous, and it would save lives. I would say it would save lives on a daily basis," said Teresa Gardner, the Executive Director of Health Wagon which organizes the clinic.

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Medical drone making deliveries in rural Virginia.
CBS News

Stan Brock, founder of Remote Area Medical, which has held hundreds of health clinics around the world, says drones could be invaluable after catastrophic events including major earthquakes.

"The ability to be able to dispatch some life-saving blood for a transfusion from point A to point B in disasters -- it's coming, and we need it," he said.

Stan Brock's prediction is that in less than 10 years drones like this one will be delivering emergency medical supplies all over the world.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.