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Lyft Fills Medical Transportation Gaps for One-Third of Riders

Twenty-nine percent of Lyft users have used the tool to get to a doctor's appointment when they faced medical transportation barriers.

medical transportation barriers

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Using ridesharing service Lyft to get to medical appointments has made patient care access less of a hassle, emphasizing the tool’s use as non-emergency medical transportation, according to Lyft’s annual Economic Impact Report.

The report, which included survey responses from over 30,000 Lyft passengers, outlined how the rideshare service has impacted the communities in which it is used. Currently, Lyft has been adopted in 95 percent of the US population, the report stated.

Lyft has been a boon not only for individuals getting to work or social engagements, but for patients accessing care, as well. Medical transportation is an important social determinant of health. When patients cannot get transportation to their medical appointments, they often forego care, which can lead to other adverse health impacts.

Rideshare services like Lyft have addressed that issue. Twenty-nine percent of survey respondents said they have used Lyft successfully to get to their medical appointments. Twenty-eight percent of healthcare riders said that without Lyft, they would not be able to make it to their medical appointments at all.

Using Lyft to attend medical appointments can take multiple different forms. First, a patient may call a Lyft using their own smartphone Lyft app, brokering the exchange on their own.

But Lyft has also emerged as a key player in the healthcare market, building community health partnerships with hospitals and health systems across the country. In these cases, a hospital or health system manager can broker the ride on the patient’s behalf. Many state Medicaid programs have similar capabilities.

Finally, Lyft has made partnerships with many non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) companies. These companies serve as rideshare brokers between patients and providers. If a clinic flags a patient as potentially in need of a ride, that NEMT group will arrange the ride on the patient’s and hospital’s behalfs.

These arrangements have improved patients’ experiences of care, the Lyft report pointed out. About three-quarters of respondents said using Lyft for their medical appointments made care access less of a hassle.

Thirty-six percent of respondents said that after beginning to use Lyft to attend their medical appointments, they went to urgent care less frequently.

This is likely because patients had the transportation means to attend appointments with their primary care or chronic care providers instead of having to mitigate crises in urgent care. This is ultimately less costly for the patient and healthcare industry at large.

What’s more, the use of Lyft has proven effective at making the roads safer, the report acknowledged. Seventy-one percent of riders said they are less likely to drive when impaired by a substance such as drugs or alcohol because Lyft is a transportation option.

Lyft, and other ridesharing apps, have proven effective at addressing driving under the influence as a public health issue.

Separate reports have corroborated this fact. A 2017 working paper out of the University of Kansas suggested that the public safety benefits of Lyft and Uber have resulted in lower healthcare utilization. Specifically, the decrease in impaired driving may have led to fewer ambulance rides.

Ultimately, these survey results indicate Lyft has an emerging public health good. The service is useful for addressing the social determinants of health and connecting patients with necessary medical transportation. This helps create healthier communities as a lower cost footprint, Lyft said.

Some studies have indicated that rideshare companies have mixed effectiveness at addressing medical transportation barriers. A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine indicated that rideshare programs are not, in fact, effective at reducing patient no-shows or missed appointments.

Additionally, rideshare companies such as Uber and Lyft are not always effective at offering transportation to patients with special transportation needs, including those who use a wheelchair or who have bulky medical equipment.

However, the JAMA study’s critics pointed out some study flaws. The researchers primarily looked at patients who already had a relationship with a primary care provider and who had a history of attending their medical appointments.

Lyft and Uber have proven effective at serving patients who otherwise would not attend the doctor. In doing so, these rideshare companies begin to address the fringes of healthcare who in many cases rack up the highest costs.

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