Healthcare startup Circulation has chosen Uber as their preferred partner to drive patients to hospitals for nonemergency visits. The pilot program will provide transportation to a select few hospitals in order to reduce the number of missed appointments for elderly, disabled and low-income patients.
Using a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant platform, Circulation’s digital technology connects patients, their transportation coordinators and healthcare providers with Uber cars. The program will initially only be available at select hospitals, including Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts, three Mercy Health System-run hospitals in Pennsylvania and Nemours Children’s Health System in Delaware.
“Unlike other new offerings that are stand-alone systems to dispatch on-demand vehicles, Circulation’s platform integrates with our internal systems, as well as with ride providers like Uber,” said Gary Zimmer, SVP and CEO of the Clinically Integrated Network at Mercy Health System. “It’s much more efficient for our transportation coordinators.”
The program is another example of the US healthcare system’s shift toward innovative patient care while simultaneously lowering costs. What’s more, patients are not required to have access to a smartphone, but are able to request the Uber using an online service, or in coordination with their healthcare provider.
Uber’s ride sharing competitor Lyft, has also established a program aimed at helping seniors get to their doctor’s appointments. In partnership with the National Medtrans Network, Lyft pledged to provide 2,500 rides to seniors each week in New York City.
According to Circulation, 3.6 million patients miss doctor’s appointments each year due to issues regarding transportation access. This inefficiency in getting patients to their appointments places a burden on the patient, their physicians and the healthcare system as a whole.
“A no-show? That’s a cost to the system,” said Dr. John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, and a co-founder of Circulation. “There’s [also] a downstream impact on the patients.”
Dependent on eligibility, some patients are already having their nonemergency transportation covered by the hospital. Patients covered by Medicaid are often given taxi vouchers, however Brownstein believes that this program is hard to track and could be abused.
It’s estimated that non-emergency transportation costs the US government $2.7 billion per year. While the coordinators of both the Lyft and Uber partnerships maintain that their services will result in a more efficient allocation of resources, some worry that transportation spending could increase as a result of the programs.
“Older, sicker patients may prefer a slower ride, or a helping hand in and out of the car, which are activities that are at odds with the financial incentives for transportation network company drivers,” said the authors of a recent viewpoint on the topic published in the journal, JAMA. “As these programs expand, it will be important to rigorously monitor patient experience and to provide this information to transportation network companies.”