Providing on-demand ride services to seniors improves access to care, reduces social isolation

A recent independent study found that Lyft's platform was very well received by older patients with chronic disease.
By Dave Muoio
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Providing seniors with access to on-demand ridesharing services from Lyft not only facilitates access to medical appointments, but likely also reduces their social isolation and improves their quality of life, according to an independent study conducted by University of Southern California, Los Angeles researchers and published last week in the Journal of mHealth.

"Access to transportation is more than getting from point A to point B; it encompasses multiple human facets of life," Dr. Leslie Saxon, executive director of the university’s Center for Body Computing and principal investigator of the study, said in a statement. "This research underscores how ride-sharing platforms can provide a significant benefit to the well-being of older adults, empowering them to become active participants in their own care as well as in other areas of their lives.”

TOPLINE DATA

The study included 150 participants with chronic disease and a mean age of 72 years. Two in five reported living alone, and few reported having used ridesharing services regularly due to cost, unfamiliarity and discomfort.

Over a three-month period, 93% of the cohort ordered a ride. The Lyft mobile app was used by 86% of participants and the call-in service by 16%. Participants ordered an average of 69 rides per person, and the average cost of a ride was $21.72.

Medical appointments represented nearly a third of the senior’s ride destinations, with the remainder comprising errands, entertainment and social activities. More often than not, these participants said they used services as their primary mode of transportation to both medical appointments and social engagements. Saxon and colleagues noted no significant change in daily step activity among participants.

Following the study, 92% percent of participants reported that access to unlimited rides improved the quality of their daily lives; however, the researchers saw no significant change in scores for validated tools measuring life satisfaction and geriatric depression. More than four-fifths of the participants said they would continue to use rideshare transportation, with the remainder citing cost as the primary barrier.

HOW IT WAS DONE

The researchers recruited study participants from those receiving care at Keck Medicine of USC. To be eligible, patients had to be aged 60 years or older, have a chronic disease, live in or around Los Angeles County, and report some kind of transportation barrier but still be able to enter or exit a vehicle on their own.

Participants were provided with personalized training on how to use the Lyft app, or were provided with a call-in service. All rides over the three-month period were provided at no cost to the seniors, and there were no restrictions on how many they could order. Participants logged daily step activity via a provided Fitbit wearable, and completed questionnaires before and after the study — although the researchers noted that that they were unable to follow up with 47 participants for various reasons.

WHAT’S THE HISTORY

Lyft and other transportation networks have lately been making healthcare inroads through non-emergency medical transportation agreements with providers and payer organizations. In late June, for instance, the rideshare company received approval as a Medicaid provider in Arizona, and in February it cut deals with Blue Cross Blue Shield, Humana and Logisticare while making major senior-friendly feature expansions to its platform. Meanwhile, Roundtrip raised $5.1 million in a Series A just a few months back for its own healthcare transportation network.

IN CONCLUSION

“The study results show high adoption of networked transportation by an older population with chronic disease, and as a result of the transportation, easier access to health care, increased social engagement, and improved subjective quality-of-daily-life,” Saxon and colleagues wrote in the study. “These results confirm that patients had the health resources available, i.e. established medical care and socializing opportunities, yet transportation was a significant barrier to accessibility.”