Earlier this year, Uber and MedStar Health announced a partnership aimed to help alleviate patient no-shows for the Columbia, MD-based health system while presenting it as a forward-thinking, digital-savvy operation. With about a year's worth of experience under the partnership's belt, representatives from both Uber and MedStar shared their insights into the partnership and where such collaborations are going at the Connected Health Conference on Monday in the Washington, DC area.
Getting there for care
"Half our battle is getting the patient to the appointment," Pete Celano, director of consumer health initiatives at MedStar Institute for Innovation, said at a panel discussion on cities that promote health. Missed appointments are a costly problem for health plans and physician offices, with some estimates as high as $150 billion a year in the U.S., according to a Washington Business Journal report from earlier this year, a stat Lindsay Elin, director of federal and community affairs at Uber, also shared during the panel. An estimated 3.6 million people in the U.S. miss or delay medical care each year because of issues related to transportation.
For years, MedStar used taxis in effort to reduce no-shows. However, according to Celano, taxis came with three issues: They were expensive, clunky from an operations perspective and drivers historically wouldn't go the extra mile for patients.
MedStar was the first healthcare provider to partner with Uber but Elin said there has been increased interest from other healthcare providers. In fact, Uber is investing in the creation of a small team at the company that will do nothing but work with healthcare providers, Elin stated. Currently, Uber is doing over 5 million rides a day, she shared, adding 75% of the U.S. population lives in a county that has access to Uber. "We firmly believe with partnerships with healthcare providers, senior centers [and] transit agencies that we can do even more and reach more people," Elin said.
How it's working
While the partnership started in January beginning with UberX services, Uber created a a dashboard tool called UberCENTRAL with MedStar. The product allows healthcare providers to request and manage a ride on behalf of their patient who doesn't need to own a smartphone, an important fact to consider when dealing with low-income patients. MedStar moved to the UberCENTRAL platform two months ago.
Celano stated the system is already seeing returns on the partnership. With UberX, for example, the cost to the system is about 60% of the cost of a cab in DC, Northern Virginia or Maryland, according to Celano. In addition, using an UberX means having the ability to hail a car inside an hour which reduces the chance of an appointment going unfilled.
"For patients who can afford it, we say 'Please Uber if and as you want to,'" Celano said. "It could be less expensive to go to Georgetown University Hospital for example on an Uber from most places than to park there, if we even have parking spots available."
For patients with a medical and financial need (about 30% of the patients in the U.S. health system), MedStar can cover the Uber transportation fee. About half of indigent patients are able to get a ride to the facility, Celano shared. "People ask me how it's going and I say it's all about the power of going door-to-door," he said. The average roundtrip cost is $18 which can move an appointment that does not occur to one that does occur, whereby a given healthcare system can recognize new revenue or cost savings. These face-to-face visits can help result in better health outcomes for patients, Celano indicated.
In addition, UberCENTRAL allows the provider to message drivers using memo fields. The most common memo field is "Please help the patient up to the steps of their house" on the return trip, according to Celano. The memo field can also help alert drivers the patient has a walker or an oxygen tank.
Looking to the future
Elin shared Uber is piloting certain programs to move the needle on expanding access for riders. One such pilot is uberASSIST, which is available in over 30 markets in the U.S. where drivers are trained on the needs of the riders they are likely to pick up, including seniors and elderly individuals. Elin stated the company is currently looking at how to scale the program. Another program, uberFAMILY, is being used where family members can order rides for loved ones that may no longer be able to drive and/or dependent on others for rides. Elin stated such rides have been used to get to doctor appointments as well as to weekly Bridge games.
"We have not yet met the needs of riders who use wheelchairs so we have about 13 different pilots happening across the country" to attempt to resolve the gap in access, Elin stated, adding Uber is eager to hear which companies and partnerships they should be looking at to tackle the issue.
Celano also mentioned high interest in Uber’s pilots around UberRUSH, an on-demand courier service that could be used to deliver medications.