On March 1, 2018, the ride-hailing company Uber announced the public launch of its Uber Health initiative. This program seeks to supply an easily-accessible system of ride appointments that can be used by patients, doctors and staff in a variety of health care settings. Uber Health is already running in beta and seeks to fill an important role helping patients get to their non-urgent medical appointments.
Chris Weber, general manager for Uber Health, said that “while transportation barriers are common across the general population, these barriers are greatest for vulnerable populations, including patients with the highest burden of chronic disease.” More than 3 million Americans miss appointments because of transportation difficulties every year. Uber stated in a press release that unattended appointment rates are as high as 30 percent in the U.S., citing stats from SCI Solutions. More than 100 health care organizations are already using Uber Health.
Health care coordinators can schedule rides for patients with Uber Health for immediate fulfillment or up to 30 days in advance. Multiple rides can be scheduled in a single dashboard session. According to Uber, the ride billing and management functions of the interface are simple and user-friendly. It is also launching an API (application programming interface) so that the new app can be integrated with preexisting medical information systems.
One of Uber Health’s most notable and promoted features is that it is designed to be accessible to patients without smartphones. The standard method of securing and sending the details of a ride with a passenger will be done through text message. Another upcoming option will be for patients to receive a call on their cellphone or even on a landline regarding the specs of their trip. These methods of communication seek to erase the barrier to Uber use that some people without smartphone app access have faced. Uber drivers will still rely on the app to handle their workload.
HIPAA Compliance presented a potential issue for Uber, but the company said on its site that it has been “working hard to develop, implement and customize numerous safeguards.” Uber consulted with a HIPAA compliance consulting company called Clearwater Compliance during this process. One aspect of its HIPAA-compliant services will be that the drivers will not know which riders are specifically using Uber Health. They will simply receive a name, location and destination, as in a typical Uber service.
Uber driver Peter Whorley told NPR in March that he already sometimes picks up people who need extra space or help due to medical conditions. “I like to help people if they need extra assistance; I personally don't have that problem. But some people might be squeamish and not want to,” he said. He also thinks it is important in the Uber system for both drivers and riders to have access to the smartphone app for essential location-tracking and communication purposes.
Pete Celano, director of Consumer Health Initiatives at MedStar Health, which has already started using this new appointment transportation solution, is satisfied with the service thus far. “Uber has helped us drastically reduce appointment cancellations. 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,” he told Uber.