The Loop

Uber Health

Filed under: Benefits

Every year, about one-third of patients who have a scheduled doctor's appointment fail to show up. These patients cost the healthcare system $150 billion each year. Do they do it because they really don't want to see the doctor that day? Not in most cases. On average, 3.6 million Americans miss medical appointments for the simple reason that they don't have a ride to get there.

Uber Solution
Uber, the peer-to-peer ridesharing platform founded in 2009, launched a new service in March of this year called Uber Health. Uber Health offers the first ride-hailing platform available specifically to healthcare providers, including doctor's offices, clinics, hospitals, physical therapy and rehabilitation centers.

The regular Uber ride service operates via a smartphone app. Once downloaded, riders or providers can request a ride by inputting their destination. The nearest Uber driver in the area responds with an estimated time of arrival, price for the full trip (which is automatically charged to a debit or credit card set up with the app), and a description of the car so the rider knows what to look for.

Uber Health operates a little differently, largely due to the HIPAA compliance regulations that requires extra measures for privacy and security. Rides for patients are scheduled and paid for by the healthcare provider using a centralized online dashboard system. This means that patients who need transportation assistance – often low-income or elderly folks who don't own smartphones – do not need to use the Uber app or even own a cell phone at all.

The Uber Health service leverages its nationwide network of Uber drivers, available everywhere in the United States where Uber is available. The following gives you an idea of how extensively the regular Uber ride-sharing service, also available internationally, is presently used:

  • 7 million drivers
  • 75 cillion riders
  • 5 billion rides
  • Averages 10 million rides a day
  • Available in 600 cities in 78 countries
  • Uber commands about 85% of the U.S. ride-hailing market

For healthcare providers, it takes about five business days to set up, verify and activate an account via Uber Health's online self-service portal. Once established, it can be used for any rider the healthcare provider chooses, including patients, caregivers, employees and others.

The provider books rides on its client's behalf, using a simple web dashboard. Rides can be ordered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with up to 30 days advance booking. The process is as follows:

  • Provider logs on to the Uber Health online portal.
  • Opens "New Ride" tab.
  • Enters rider's name, phone number, pick-up and drop-off locations, and preferred vehicle type.
  • If the rider has a mobile phone, she will receive a text when the ride is initially booked and again when the driver is en route. This text will include the name of the driver picking her up, an estimated time of arrival, the driver's contact phone number and a link to a live, web-based map showing the driver's current whereabouts in relation to the rider's location.
  • If the rider has only a landline phone, the driver typically will call her once the vehicle has arrived.

Note that the rider does not need an Uber account or even a phone; the driver will arrive at the scheduled site at the time requested.

Uber Health is designed specifically for the healthcare industry in accordance with HIPAA standards. The service uses a separate database to house all of the trip information on HIPAA-compliant servers for providers. The data is never stored on the general Uber service database and is accessible only to Uber Health employees.

The cost is the same as a regular Uber ride based on rate at the time of the booking, and rides tend to be cheaper than taxi fares. Payment is billed to the healthcare provider, so patients don't even have to worry about having the cash to pay for the ride.

As for healthcare providers, they pay only for the cost of individual rides, while access to the dashboard and the service's reporting tools are free with registration. Initially, no insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare, are offering reimbursements for Uber rides. For the most part, doctor's offices, medical facilities and hospitals are paying for the rides out of their own budgets. The general consensus is that it is cheaper to pay for the ride and file reimbursement claims for medical services rendered than lose payments for missed appointments – not to mention lost staff productivity.

Uber Health offers ease and convenience for both healthcare professionals and patients, including the following benefits:

  • Multiple rides can be arranged at one time
  • Providers can book a ride for immediate pick-up or schedule it for a specific time
  • Rides can be reserved well in advance, when appointments are made
  • The real-time online dashboard enables a provider to track rides to ensure the patient is on her way to the appointment
  • Easy tracking and billing – a provider can pull reports for what rides are scheduled, search for rides completed within certain dates, view monthly billing statements, etc.

During its initial beta-test period, healthcare providers found the service to be enormously helpful. While popular among younger generations who are used to using smart phone apps, it took a while for senior demographics to warm up to the idea. However, those who repeatedly used the service found it invaluable.

Uber Health has been particularly popular with physical therapy centers. Many times, patients are supposed to attend therapy two or three times per week, but many are restricted from driving due to their injuries.

As of its launch date in March, Uber Health already had more than 100 participating healthcare providers that utilized the platform during the private beta period that began a year ago. Uber Health's platform also features an Application Programming Interface (API) to integrate its system with clients' existing patient management software.

What Uber Health Is Not
It's important to note that Uber Health should in no way be considered for patients who need emergency services, such as paramedics or an ambulance. Remember, the service is arranged only by the healthcare provider, which will not happen under an emergency scenario.

However, there are situations when a patient may call for a regular Uber ride for urgent or emergency care because he believes a driver will respond more quickly than an ambulance. In this scenario, if something happens to the patient during transit, the Uber driver will call 911.

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