Drones Help Hospice Patients Visit Places And People They Love

September 12, 2016Posted by Wendy Joan Biddlecombe

For many terminally ill patients in hospice care, a hospital bed and a room with a view might be the last thing that they get to see.

But one man believes that just because you are no longer healthy enough to move around doesn’t mean that you can’t experience new things with your family in your final days. 

By using drones, one man was able to bring his vision of flying patients to beloved places—and people—they want to see and experience once last time.  

Tom Davis, founder of Aerial Anthropology, said that he once flew “for four generations of a family,” taking them on a journey to places they vacationed and played when they were younger.

“It’s very personally rewarding to provide a family with what may be their last positive, happy and memorable experience with a loved one. This is something that temporarily suspends the negative feel of the entire [dying] process.”

Davis, who works for a software company by day, bought his first drone in 2013, and became more and more involved in flying. Davis soon identified an opportunity to start a side business using drones to film for real estate and construction clients; but Aerial Anthropology’s Patient Outreach Program first took flight when Davis envisioned the potential to help people who are unable to leave their hospital beds.


Last fall, he pitched his idea to Hospice of the Western Reserve, a nonprofit with three in-patient homes in the Cleveland area that also provide at-home care. The program officially launched this spring.

“One of our concepts is that beyond pain and symptom management, with whatever time is left, to improve the quality of life and dignity and validation of what our patients’ lives were like,” said Jennifer Stonebrook, director of access to care. 

One thing’s for sure: it is never to late to make new memories, which is why the drone program, called “A Flight to Remember,” is available to patients for free.


At the Hospice of Western Reserve homes, a large screen television is wheeled into the patient’s’ room, and patients at home watch on a laptop. A live feed is transmitted from the drone to the screen, and Davis is in constant connection with the family, who can direct him where to fly. Other than that, the family is able to view the flight amongst themselves without any interaction.

In late August, the Federal Aviation Administration released a certificate program for drone operators called a remote pilot’s license, and Davis plans to start recruiting pilots across the U.S. who have completed the program. There is a contact form on his website for interested drone operators.

And, at Hospice of the Western Reserve, they’re ready to scale up as well.

“Our patients are thrilled,” Stonebrook said. “Tom’s attitude is: if a patient wants to go to Hawaii, let’s get him there.”


Hospice of Western Reserve

Drones have been used in a number of creative and solution-based ways recently. Agriculture drones offer a less expensive and more in-depth look at crops, giving farmers the potential to use less water and pesticide. Lifeguard drones have the potential to deploy and deliver life preservers and sophisticated search and rescue software. Some drones are even being used to track down areas of poverty that lack reliable transportation or access to food and clean water in an attempt to help bring in resources.

The ability to make new memories in final days is now part of that list.

“With drones you always hear about the negative things, like the one that crashed on the White House grounds,” Davis said. “I thought the technology was incredible and there must be a way to leverage it for good. This is a way for hospice patients to get out of their room and experience things, even if it is for a little bit.”

Drone Photo CC Andrew Turner

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