By Tom Peterson
Earlier this year my 89-year-old mother in Austin was needing to get to medical appointments and physical therapy about once a week. She had recently decided not to drive anymore and had sold her car. My sister worked full time but would find ways to be off to take her to her appointments. If only we could find more help.
So when I was visiting earlier this year, I downloaded the Uber app on her smart phone, signed her up using my credit card so she wouldn’t have to think about the money. She just had to push a button, wait a few minutes for the car and go to her appointment. To make sure she knew how to use it, I went with her on a trip. I just watched while she did everything. A week later she called me in Little Rock in to tell me she had taken an Uber trip to an appointment by herself. It worked! And the drivers were very pleasant to talk with. Problem solved.
Then about a month later Uber and Lyft left Austin over a disagreement. So now my sister does all the driving again, but we’ll find a new way to get her help.
Hospitals turn to ride-hail services
My mom will get to her appointments. But many won’t, especially low-income and elderly people, and this will negatively impact their health. Therese McMillan writing for the U.S. Department of Transportation says “About 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical appointments every year because they lack a ride to the doctor…. Given that America’s population is aging, and about half of us live with at least one chronic condition, getting regular health care is more important than ever.”
Most people live in cities where Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services operate. In a recent article in The Atlantic Zhai Yun Tan says hospitals are seeing in them a great way to help their patients get to their appointments:
Some hospitals and medical providers think that the hot-new technology in town—ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft—can address this problem by making the trips easier and, in some cases, it is even covered by Medicaid and other insurance plans. Partnerships between ride-hailing companies and hospitals are emerging around the country. While the efforts are still small, some hospitals and medical transportation providers think the potential for growth is large.
The article points to organizations and hospitals around the country—for example National Medtrans Network in New York, California and Nevada—joining with Uber and Lyft to make it easier to patients to get where they need to go.
The National Medtrans Network partnership with Lyft began after an incident in February 2015. One of its clients, an elderly woman, was left waiting for a ride to a hospital in New York in freezing weather for 30 minutes. The contracted provider failed to show up.
“It was almost a dangerous situation,” said CEO Andrew Winakor. When his company was notified of the situation, officials immediately called a ride-hail service. The ride arrived within six minutes. Winakor said Medtrans officials realized they had to find a transportation option that could respond immediately to canceled rides.
The Atlantic article points to a number of benefits of ride-hailing option. While many hospitals offer riding programs, they have to be scheduled in advance, “which becomes a problem when the patient needs to go in for an unscheduled appointment or if the patient forgets to book ahead.” Also, hospitals lose money when patients don’t show up for their appointments. The implications for this new kind of partnership are not small: A CNN article this year reports that “every year, about $3 billion in federal Medicaid money goes toward transportation.”