San Francisco-based Uber, a global ride-sharing company, has launched Uber Health, a service that enables health care providers to hail on-demand and scheduled rides for patients. Home care companies are already on board to test out the service.
Uber’s mission in the new service line is to help cut down on missed appointments, which can take a major toll on the health care system, with a total estimated impact of $150 billion.
“Transportation is a barrier to health care,” Chris Weber, general manager for Uber, told Home Health Care News. “It seemed like a ripe opportunity for us to take on. Missed appointments can trigger a chain reaction that can end in increased emergency department visits, hospital readmission rates and higher costs distributed across the industry.”
The service engages with Uber’s 750,000 active U.S. drivers, who can be dispatched through Uber Health’s dashboard online, designed to be used by health care personnel.
Uber launched a beta test with 100 health care providers in July 2017 and took the service nationwide Thursday morning.
One such partner in the beta test is Georgetown Home Care, a private duty home care provider based in Washington, D.C., which sees the service as a way to keep clients out of assisted living centers and in their homes longer.
Health care providers can set up their own accounts online through Uber’s new dashboard, which the company has hailed as having HIPAA in mind.
“This is all designed with privacy in mind and being thoughtful and respectful as possible and being good stewards of our ecosystem,” Jay Holley, health of partnerships at Uber, told Home Health Care News. “[We’ve] created data centers outside of Uber’s core ecosystem. Everyone who might have access to that has been HIPAA trained, just like you would expect. We make sure we have that partitioned off from core Uber data.”
The data issue is particularly sticky with Uber, as its privacy policies have come under fire over the last few years. Just last year, the company settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that it failed to protect sensitive information, leading to a data breach that exposed drivers’ names and license numbers. As part of the agreement, Uber must hire a firm to audit its privacy practices every two years over the next 20 years.
The FTC also focused on Uber’s alleged “God View” function, which enabled employees to track any user during a ride and view their data and ride history. Ride share company Lyft has been accused of similar privacy concerns as of late.
The service is also different from Uber’s previous offerings in the heath care space, namely UberASSIST, which can serve patients with disabilities or who may need help getting from door to door. Home care companies have also partnered with Uber for this service.
Patients aren’t on the hook for the cost of the ride, as Uber bills the health care provider at the end of each month. Patients’ personal Uber accounts are also not connected to the ride hailed by the health care provider, according to Holley. For many providers, the cost, which is no higher than a regular Uber ride, can be worth it.
Down the line, Uber is hopeful that other payers may take notice of the service and its potential to save providers on missed appointments and earlier care interventions. Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance benefits are potential reimbursement forms in the future, Holley said.
“The vast majority of our customers are funding this from their operations budget,” Holley said. “They may have taxi voucher programs or be accustomed to paying for bus passes [for patients]. Very often this enhances their business and mitigates things like appointments no-shows and getting them home sooner. That’s good business for our customers.”
At this point, Uber isn’t divulging how many customers it expects to gain through the service.
“We’re not sharing any growth or revenue projections,” Holley said. “The key focus is making sure the operations are sound.”
The service also isn’t meant to replace any other emergency responders, such as an ambulance. Reports have circulated that consumers have started to opt to hail Uber rides to doctor appointments or hospitals when they are feeling sick instead of paying the steep price for an ambulance. One recent analysis found a 7% decline in ambulance calls in areas where UberX was available, though the study results are not conclusive.
“One of the great things about this service it the folks who work at the health care facility, they make the determination if Uber is or [isn’t] the appropriate way to get home,” Holley said. “To the extent of an emergency service, we of course tell them to call 911 to dispatch directly. This is not meant to be an emergency system. There’s a transportation barrier, and if they can’t make it to their services, Uber is a reliable option.”
Written by Amy Baxter