As big tech gets into healthcare, Uber Health wants to do it right

One year in, the company has 1,000 customers and has seen a big improvement on the status quo.
By Jonah Comstock
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Person using a ridesharing app.

When it comes to medical transportation, the status quo just won’t do, according to Uber Health head Aaron Crowell.

“Sometimes there are programs that require two days before you can even schedule a trip,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but oftentimes with my kids I don’t know exactly when they’re going to get sick and I can’t schedule it in advance. And then the other thing is once a patient shows up, I’ve seen it so many times when they wait four or five hours to be picked backed up. Or they never do. … We had a dialysis patient who never got picked up, and we found her rolling herself in a wheelchair down the highway. This stuff happens.”

Uber Health officially launched one year ago at HIMSS18. Now the healthcare wing of the rideshare giant has more than 1,000 clients. At Monday’s Patient Engagement and Experience Summit, Crowell talked about one of those customers, Baltimore’s MedStar Health.

“MedStar was having a significant problem with patient no-shows,” Crowell said, “but it was happening about an hour before the actual appointment. The patient would call, ‘Can’t get there,’ and all of a sudden you had issues with doctors having appointments missed. So what they did was they brought in Uber, and they started using rideshares to schedule those trips.”

For MedStar, Uber Health made a big difference.

“All of a sudden, no shows dramatically decreased. Fill rates for the doctors started going up 5 to 10 percent,” he said. “But here’s the thing that really excited me, I think is amazing --

they had a transportation budget. With that same budget, they were able to increase the amount of transportation out of it by 40 percent.”

Crowell said that a lot of big tech companies are targeting healthcare because of the size of the opportunity. But he hopes Uber can provide a model of a responsible entry into the space.

“What we did, from the ground up, we built an infrastructure,” he said. “We brought in consultants who were experts in those fields to make sure we were doing it right. Our data is encrypted, our staff is HIPAA-trained. Those things are really important or you can’t work in the space; we wouldn’t really be protecting the clients and organizations we work with. Obviously from a patient standpoint, [we have] GPS tracking, knowing exactly where riders are, and obviously the background checks.”

Uber also looked at ways to modify its consumer offering to be more inclusive of the diversity of needs in healthcare, facilitating rides for patients who might not have smartphones or even cell phones, and premiering pilots around the country to improve access for patients in wheelchairs.

“Oftentimes, we see a rider get in who’s never been in a rideshare and normally wouldn’t be able to do that,” he said. “And there is a sense of dignity that comes from that, from just being able to get in and have a conversation with a smiling face. Remember what I talked about in terms of patient satisfaction and engagement? Those little things will help patients go again and again to care. I’ve seen it.”

Uber Health is looking to expand the business in similar ways to its consumer expansion into Uber Eats. The company has its eye on prescription delivery, Crowell said, as well as durable medical equipment and even home care.

“There are lots of opportunities to impact and provide better access to care outside of just transportation,” he said. “But that’s what we’re focused on primarily right now.”

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Twitter: @JonahComstock
Email the writer: jonah.comstock@himssmedia.com