In a move that the company is confident will change, if not revolutionize, the way non-emergency patients commute to and from healthcare providers, Uber announced the launch of its new ride-hailing platform “Uber Health,” on Thursday (March 1).
The HIPAA-compliant platform, tailored to suit the healthcare industry, will work along the lines of UberCENTRAL that allows the company’s business customers to provide transportation to their clientele through the service.
While Uber may have come a long way in so far as addressing transportation woes of different sections of society is concerned, it had not channelled its resources on an issue that the company admits is “vital to all of us: health” – well, not until its Thursday announcement that it was taking the healthcare transportation bull by the horns.
Healthcare stats reveal that a whopping 3.6 million non-emergency patients in the country fail to turn up for their doctor appointments because of the lack of consistently dependable transportation.
Jamie Gier, Chief Marketing Officer at SCI Solutions, wrote in April of last year that the U.S. Healthcare system had to bear the financial brunt of missed medical appointments to the tune of $150 billion each year.
“Each open, unused time slot costs a physician 60 minutes and $200 on average. Now factor in that no-show rates are as high as 30% nationwide, and you can see how that $150 billion figure is reached,” Gier wrote.
“With so many high-tech, digital reminders at our disposal, you may wonder how such an expensive and potentially dangerous problem exists. A missed medical appointment could pose serious health risks for patients as it could mean the difference between catching a disease early on or too late. In addition, an inefficient scheduling process can wreak havoc and raise stress levels for both a health systems’ staff and patients,” she added.
With a 30% no-show rate across the country, it was imperative that Uber harnessed its ample resources, sooner rather than later, to conquer the transportation barrier in this vital area of concern.
“There are a lot of people out there who are not going to the doctor simply because they can’t physically make it there,” says Uber Health’s head of partnerships Jay Holley.
Uber Health seeks to partner with healthcare providers, including hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation centers, senior care facilities, home care centers, and the likes, in order to allow these caregivers access to the “Uber Health” dashboard for ordering rides on behalf of patients, to and from their appointments.
As a matter of fact, more than 100 such setups are already participating in the beta program of this healthcare-dedicated platform, including the likes of Adams Clinical, Blood Centers of the Pacific, Georgetown Home Care, LifeBridge Health, MedStar Health, Manhattan Women’s Health, to name a few.
In addition to the Uber Health dashboard, the company is also introducing a platform-specific API (application programming interface) to allow smooth integrations of Uber Health into existing healthcare products.
What is really appealing about this platform is the fact that it bypasses the need for an Uber app, or even a smartphone for that matter, keeping in mind that there are many patients out there who do not own smartphones, or find apps a bit too complicated for their understanding.
Healthcare representatives will be able to book rides on behalf of patients through the Uber Health dashboard and text them the trip details, or call them on their mobiles or landlines with the information, thereby taking the app and smartphone out of the equation.
Aware of the fact that there will be many whose “first ever Uber ride will be through Uber Health,” the company has pledged its commitment to “providing the necessary educational tools that ensure every patient feels comfortable and at ease during their journey,”
The service also affords healthcare coordinators the flexibility to book rides starting immediately, or up to a month in advance, not only on behalf of patients but caregivers and employees as well.
“Coordinators can schedule rides on behalf of patients, caregivers and staff to take place immediately, within a few hours, or up to 30 days in advance,” says Uber Health General Manager Chris Weber.
“This allows for transportation to be scheduled for follow-up appointments while still at the healthcare facility. Multiple rides can be scheduled and managed at the same time, all from a single dashboard.”
Uber Health promises an equally uncomplicated business model in terms of billing and management, charging its healthcare business partners only for the rides they schedule, with free access to the dashboard and other related tools, such as billing statements, appointments etc.
“Organizations can easily keep track of what they’re spending on rides. Reporting on requested rides and viewing monthly billing statements, appointments, and scheduling reports is simple,” says Weber.
Organizations looking to pass on the cost of the rides to the patients availing them will have to come up with their own system of charging them.
As already mentioned, Uber Health will work in compliance with HIPAA – the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 to safeguard the privacy and security of information and data related to the health of patients.
Jay Holley assures that the data of patients will be “cordoned off,” with only a selected few having access to such information.
“To ensure Uber Health meets HIPAA standards, we have been working hard to develop, implement, and customize numerous safeguards,” Weber reassures. “We also worked with Clearwater Compliance, a leading HIPAA compliance company, to conduct comprehensive risk and compliance assessments. We are thus pleased to sign Business Associate Agreements (BAAs) with our healthcare partners.”
However, considering the fact that Uber was the victim of a 2016 cyber attack, which resulted in the exposure of data related to 57 million riders and drivers, apprehensions over 100 percent security will remain; more so, because of cover-up allegations against the company.
“Even if a platform is HIPAA-compliant, providers risk potential imposition of stiff penalties for data breaches, and business associate agreements should be implemented between providers and ridesharing companies,” wrote Carlton Fields’ consultants in a 2016 report titled “Offering Ridesharing Services to Patients: Uber Risky?”
It must be mentioned that “Uber Health” is not, by any means, the first of its kind, as a similar service called Concierge is being offered by Uber competitor Lyft. The service allows healthcare providers to arrange rides for patients to help them keep their medical appointments.