The evolution of Uber and other ridesharing services have completely reimagined how we get from one point to another. But the tech giant is starting to reach into other areas of our lives–syncing music through Spotify, picking up your dinner or groceries and for some, providing health care services.
When faced with a recent medical emergency, New Yorker Chandra Steele called an Uber instead of an ambulance to get to the emergency room. It’s a trend that Uber drivers say is happening more and more, despite the company encouraging users to stick with professionals who can provide critical medical attention in an ambulance.
In blog posts and news stories from London to New York, people who chose Uber over an ambulance talk about their experience. In nearly every case, patients were worried about misusing emergency services and the unknown (but likely steep) cost of an ambulance. Uber is increasingly popular as an ambulance substitute according to users who rely on Uber’s map feature to identify how close their ride is and how quickly they can make it to the hospital. In today’s instant world, users look for transparency, immediacy and cheap fares. Things an ambulance ride doesn’t necessarily offer.
Uber and the medical community explicitly encourage users to call an ambulance in emergency situations. One Uber spokesperson made it pretty clear, “Uber isn’t designed to be a substitute for emergency authorities.” They argue the trend is putting drivers, riders and other cars on the road at risk.
But Uber isn’t avoiding the health care field, they’re trying to change it. In 2015, the company retained Dr. John Brownstein, professor at Harvard Medical and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital as its first health care advisor. Dr. Brownstein launched UberHEALTH, which has offered on demand wellness packs to flu sufferers and flu shots administered by registered nurses to those who want to avoid the bug.
Uber has also created partnerships with health systems including MedStar Health and Hackensack University Medical Center to provide patients rides to and from medical appointments. Because transportation is often cited as a barrier to care, many of the health systems cover or deeply discount the Uber fare.
A partnership between Uber and health care communication company Relatient allows patients to order an Uber directly through the app and fill out any necessary paperwork on the ride. Uber and Relatient say the partnership will also reduce overall health care costs, “There’s no doubt that solving the transportation problem will save lives. It will also mean more financially sound health organizations,” said Sam Johnson, CEO of Relatient.
Uber’s most recent and perhaps most extensive foray into UberHEALTH was launched earlier this month. Partnering with Apollo Hospitals, Uber users were able to request an Apollo practitioner to visit their home or office on April 7 to collect blood samples and administer diabetes and thyroid tests totally free of cost.
Whatever Uber’s future, it’s clear that the company wants to find a home in health care. Deepak Reddy, general manager of Uber Hyderabad says, “…we want to showcase the power of technology to make healthcare facilities available at their doorstep for riders across the world.”
Other tech and app services aiming to disrupt health care have had mixed reviews, but Uber has already turned one industry on its head. Can it do it again?