Is Uber already the 'Uber of healthcare?'

Health IT developers have their eyes set on creating the next "Uber for healthcare," an on-demand, consumer-centric platform that allows patients to be more involved and engaged with their healthcare. But while developers in the healthcare industry are figuring out exactly how to harness the power of Uber, Uber is already disrupting the industry itself.

In recent weeks, Uber and Lyft have partnered with health systems and other third parties to offer nonemergency medical transportation for patients who face transportation barriers when trying to get to healthcare appointments.

For instance, a pilot program in which Lyft partnered with nonemergency medical transportation manager company National MedTrans reported a 30 percent decrease in average wait times for rides, falling from 12.52 minutes to 8.77 minutes, and a 32.4 percent decrease in average cost per ride, falling from $31.54 to $21.32, according to a viewpoint in JAMA.

In the era of value-based care and population health, the social determinants of health — such as socioeconomic status, access to care and health literacy — have taken the front seat of health policy discussions. It is by addressing these concerns that overall clinical quality can start to improve.

For example, the viewpoint cites a study analyzing more than 182,000 patients receiving dialysis which found those who relied on car services were at a higher risk of missing hemodialysis treatments. Before patients can receive such treatments, they first need a way to get to their appointments.

Some payers do already offer nonemergency medical transportation benefits, but there are many challenges to such services, including rising costs, wait times exceeding 60 minutes, program integrity and vendor oversight, according to the viewpoint.

Services like the ones offered by Uber and Lyft are changing that. While they are heralded for revolutionizing the transportation industry, pilot programs like these indicate these companies are en route to transforming the healthcare industry as well by addressing some of these determinants head-on.

"Instead of waiting for the next big healthcare app, substantial advances could be made by integrating technologies that have already solved discrete problems shared by other fields," according to the viewpoint. "Lofty ambitions are important, but they can sometimes obscure viable solutions."

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Dr. Toby Cosgrove: How medical innovation is transforming more than healthcare
Jonathan Bush: We're using old technology to measure how bad new technology is
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