- Ridesharing company Uber has officially launched Uber Health, a platform specifically designed for patients with medical transportation and care access needs.
Lack of transportation to a medical facility is an important social determinant of health that keeps nearly 3.6 million patients from attending their doctor’s appointments each year. Older patients who no longer drive, patients who do not own a vehicle, patients with disabilities, patients living in rural or remote areas, and many other demographics often have trouble obtaining a ride to a clinic and must go without care.
As ridesharing apps such as Uber have grown in prominence, they and healthcare professionals have recognized the role these tools can play in fulfilling medical transportation needs. In recent years, an increasing number of healthcare organizations, non-emergency medical transportation companies, and other medical entities have partnered with ridesharing companies to support patient needs.
Uber Health takes these individual partnerships one step further, the company wrote in a press release announcing the healthcare offshoot. Uber Health will be its own dashboard on which healthcare providers can book a ride for a patient, caregiver, or other medical staff.
These rides can be booked at time of need or as much as one-month in advance. This advanced ride hailing will be especially helpful when providers are scheduling follow-up appointments for vulnerable patient populations who are high-risk no-shows.
Patients may also access the Uber Health dashboard on their own apps, or those without a smartphone can call rides using text message. Patients have the option of receiving ride confirmation details via phone call to their cell phones or landlines, the company said.
The Uber Health app aims to overcome barriers born from low health technology literacy, Uber said. The company is aware that many patients’ first Uber rides will stem from the Uber Health dashboard, so the company says it is taking care to ensure there is the proper patient technology education embedded into the platform.
Healthcare organizations using the Uber Health dashboard can reportedly easily manage the billing side of the app. The Uber press release did not offer specific details about the billing dashboard.
Several leading healthcare organizations have been using the Uber Health platform as a part of a pilot project, including MedStar Health, NYU Perlmutter Cancer Center, and Yale New Haven Health.
At MedStar, the Uber Health dashboard has helped reduce appointment cancellations stemming from lack of medical transportation.
“Uber has helped us drastically reduce appointment cancellations,” MedStar Health Director of Consumer Health Initiatives Pete Celano said in a press release. “It’s great to be able to quickly request a ride with so that in-need patients can make an appointment they’d otherwise miss.”
Some healthcare professionals have questioned the efficacy of ridesharing services in closing medical transportation gaps. A 2018 article published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that ridesharing deals did not reduce patient no-show rates among Medicaid populations.
However, critics of that JAMA study say the methodology was flawed and did not accurately portray the populations that ridesharing deals are trying to reach. For one, the study only included patients who already had a relationship with a primary care provider, meaning that most of these patients likely were regularly attending their doctors’ appointments.
Ridesharing deals seek to target patients who are not yet regularly attending their appointments because they face medical transportation barriers.
When those patients do access ridesharing options, as opposed to alternative and more expensive transportation options, healthcare costs go down, separate research suggests. A 2016 JAMA article found that a partnership between patient advocacy group CareMore and ridesharing company Lyft reduced healthcare costs by 30 percent. At the time of publication, per-ride costs ranged between $31.54 and $21.32.
The new Uber Health dashboard will likely have similar effects as previous ridesharing partnerships. However, this platform is now available to a wider audience, and it will be integral that both app developers and healthcare providers educate patients on how to use the rideshare service to yield optimal results.