Ride-sharing service Uber has decided to jump into the medical transportation provider market with the introduction of its latest product, Uber Health.
Uber's new health service lets providers schedule rides for patients
The company on Thursday announced the launch of a new non-emergency ride service that healthcare providers can use to schedule rides for patients.
It's a venture that the company has been exploring since July 2017 on a limited scale in partnerships with more than 100 healthcare organizations who tested Uber's beta version of the program.
The service will now be available to all healthcare providers. They will not be charged a monthly subscription or similar fee, just the cost of the ride.
Chris Weber, general manager of Uber Health, said the company's ability to expand its scope to provide transportation in traditionally underserved areas was the premise behind its launch into healthcare.
Lack of transportation has often been cited as a major barrier to healthcare access. An estimated 25% of patients have missed an appointment due to transportation problems, according to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Community Health.
An estimated 3.6 million Americans miss their healthcare appointments every year because of unreliable transportation, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Evidence has shown the healthcare industry loses approximately $150 billion per year due to missed appointments.
“While we certainly don't expect to take on that entire $150 billion number in our first efforts, we're pretty confident we can start making an impact by reducing the number of missed appointments due to transportation,” Weber said.
Healthcare providers will be able to schedule rides for patients through a digital dashboard that would be accessible online or integrated into a facility's existing system.
The service can transport to patients as far as 300 miles, and drivers could be any one of Uber's more than 750,000 drivers.
“This is your standard set of Uber drivers that are out there,” said Jay Holley, head of partnerships at Uber Health.
Holley said drivers are not given any additional information that leads them to conclude an Uber health trip was any different form a standard Uber trip, out of respect for patient privacy.
Providers are able to call for multiple rides at once using the dashboard, which does not require riders to have the Uber app or a smartphone. Riders can either get a text message or phone call with trip details.
The potential for ride-sharing in healthcare could be huge, with the non-emergency medical transportation market estimated at $3 billion a year.
Studies have shown ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft tend to be used more often by urban residents, who are younger and more affluent. A 2016 analysis by the Pew Research Center found 26% of Americans with an annual household income of $75,000 or more had used a ride-hailing service compared to 10% of those living in households with an annual income of less than $30,000.
But the bulk of Uber Health's patients would most likely be older, lower-income individuals.
“I think in general this is another example of more effort being placed on providing patient-centric care,” said Sebastian Seiguer, CEO of Emocha, a mobile health company that uses video directly observed therapy to increase medication adherence. “This is a great example of a returned focus on helping the patient now that the length of stay in clinics has been reduced.”
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