Patients across the country are increasingly turning to mobile ride-hailing apps to get to and from medical appointments, a promising trend that might help curb a widespread but little-known public health problem: Some 30 percent of medical appointments are no-shows. So it’s welcome news that ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft both recently unveiled new platforms designed specifically to facilitate transportation for patients.
But these innovative solutions will only scratch the surface of their potential unless people know they are available and understand how to use them. That’s why local policymakers should consider how they can partner with companies like Uber and Lyft to ensure that patients of all ages are aware of how they can access ride-hailing services for non-emergency medical appointments.
Not only would this help more patients get the care they need, but it will also free up limited vehicles and often overburdened personnel for more urgent medical situations. It could also help address a persistent problem that is plaguing the U.S. health-care system.
Doctors and hospitals have welcomed ride-sharing technology for patients to reduce missed medical appointments, which cost health-care providers $150 billion a year. In fact, Uber’s HIPAA-compliant medical ride-hailing platform was the result of an eight-month trial with 100 health-care providers. Available in more than 250 cities, Uber Health makes it possible for providers to schedule appointments for their patients.
Lyft followed suit, launching a similar platform for medical facilities in partnership with the electronic health records company Allscripts. By joining forces with Allscripts, Lyft is able to reach an estimated 2,500 hospitals, 45,000 physician practices and 180,000 physicians — that means it will make transportation to medical appointments vastly easier for roughly 7 million Americans.
The medical ride-hailing services developed and rolled out by Uber and Lyft are prime examples of how innovative technology companies can help fix the problem of no-show appointments and help municipalities reduce the burden on existing medical transportation infrastructure. But they are hardly the only examples of how 21st-century technology can play a pivotal role in helping local governments solve urgent civic challenges.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey last August, which destroyed vehicles and swallowed up homes throughout Texas and Louisiana, ride-hailing companies offered free rides to residents affected or displaced by the storm. Uber, for instance, offered rides to or from dozens of shelters in Texas, helping unite family and friends who were separated during emergency evacuations.
Other leading tech companies came to the rescue in the days and weeks after Harvey made landfall. Airbnb, for example, activated its Disaster Response Program to allow hosts to offer free housing for disaster victims, and hundreds of users in Texas and Louisiana responded by offering their spaces to Harvey evacuees.
What is becoming clear is that technology can help solve civic challenges and improve the quality of life for residents in a variety of ways, some of which we cannot yet imagine. The promise of ride-hailing apps to transform medical transportation is only one example. It is vital that policymakers increasingly consider policies that pave the way for proven technological solutions to take root and think creatively about how they can partner with innovative companies to expand access to the products and services they offer.