A new startup is using Uber's technology to help patients hail a ride to their doctors, hoping to cut down on the 3.6 million Americans who miss medical appointments each year because they don't have transportation.
The service is targeted at patients who don't have cars and can't afford or access public transit, and whose rides are covered by health plans such as Medicaid.
The startup, Circulation, used Uber's software to create an app that hospitals can use to request Uber vehicles for patients who need help getting to and from appointments. For qualifying patients who choose to participate, the new service will replace existing options, such as taxi vouchers.
"Existing efforts rely on outdated transportation options. Often patients have to wait hours before they can get picked up," said John Brownstein, co-founder of Circulation and chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital. "We're creating a seamless transportation platform."
Children's is one of three health care providers that has agreed to start testing the service, along with Mercy Health System in Pennsylvania and Nemours Children's Health System in Delaware. It is expected to expand to six additional states this year.
As payment models in the health care industry change to encourage doctors and hospitals to better manage patient care, health care providers and insurance companies are paying more attention to transportation.
When patients miss routine appointments because they don't have a ride, they can develop complications that can lead to hospital stays. In new payment contracts, doctors and hospitals may be responsible for the costs of such avoidable hospital visits.
Switching from taxis to Ubers should help patient satisfaction by reducing the time patients spend waiting for rides, Brownstein said. Patients don't need smartphones to use the service because hospital staff will request the rides for them.
The service, which was built to comply with patient privacy laws, will launch with hundreds of patients, but Brownstein said he doesn't expect it to completely replace the taxi voucher system.
"We're trying to add another gear in the system," he said. "We think there's opportunities for all types of transportation."
Uber named Brownstein's company, Circulation, its preferred health care partner on Tuesday.
"Through Circulation, hospitals now have a viable option for modernizing their non-emergency medical transportation," Uber regional general manager Meghan Joyce said in a news release.