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New Transport Options for Patients

Ride-booking apps increasingly used to get patients to and from health care appointments
By Jim Watson and Kimberly Young

Due to the rising cost of health care and with the majority of payers moving away from fee-for-service to pay-for-performance (P4P) contracts, it is becoming a world of accountable care organizations (ACOs) and clinical integration organizations—both of which are at the very heart of fee-for-value. The guidelines are clear: “Provide a better quality service at a lower cost.” Physicians and hospitals must optimize their operations and align cost with positive clinical outcomes. As such, it is increasingly important to partner with outside sources that can help you achieve your goals for improving quality and cutting cost.

MedStar Health, the largest not-for-profit health care system in Maryland and the Washington, DC, area, has partnered with Uber Technologies Inc., an international transportation network based in San Francisco. In January 2016, MedStar Health gave its patients the option of using Uber in order to travel to their health care appointments. MedStar had noted that when patients missed appointments or had to reschedule at the last minute, they often cited transportation as a factor.

ACOs and clinical integration organizations are tasked with getting all their patients evaluated and treated for everything from a routine checkup to treatment and cure of a disease. When patients are seen on a regular basis for preventative care and follow-up visits, conditions can be caught early and treated before they become acute and drive up costs for both patients and the organizations. Uber provides a way for patients without transportation to get to their physician or hospital appointment.

Tap the App, Get a Ride

MedStar patients can now select the “Ride with Uber” button displayed on the MedStar Health website. Patients not only can request a ride but they can also find out the cost of the ride and the approximate wait time for the ride. Although patients currently have to pay for rides, which may be cost-prohibitive for some, MedStar will soon have the technical capability to provide rides covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

Uber is available throughout the MedStar service area and offers patients another convenient way to get to and from home or to the office or to any of the MedStar facilities. “Uber is a reliable option—day or night—regardless of where you need to go in the Washington, DC, area,” said Zuhairah Washington, general manager of Uber’s Metro DC business. “Our collaboration with MedStar can help patients better plan their transportation to and from appointments, and ensure they never miss an appointment because they don’t have a ride.”

In the Chicago market, many payers already provide transportation benefits to enrollees, especially in government plans such as Medicaid HMOs and Medicare Advantage plans. Historically, these transportation benefits have been in the form of bus or subway tokens, or contracted taxi services. Several plans in Chicago have indicated that they are seeking ways to use Uber as a transportation benefit. Look for Uber to play a bigger role in that space in the coming months.

Applying Concepts to Wait Times, Pricing, Payment

Robert Zisman, vice president of GE Healthcare Camden Group, recently wrote about the potential to apply Uber concepts to other parts of health care. For example, if you take an app like NoWait, and apply it to health care, consumers could check online to find out wait times for physician visits, ancillary services and emergency room visits (a service that is already happening in many other formats). Another idea would be to apply Uber’s pricing concepts to health care by, for example, creating surge pricing for physician visits or urgent care facility visits depending upon availability. And what physician practice wouldn’t appreciate being paid as quickly and easily as payment made via the Uber app? Physicians would be paid within minutes of the patient leaving the office.

Uber is a transformative technology that has turned the taxi industry upside down, and its applications are being applied conceptually to countless other industries, including health care. However you look at this technology, Uber is another example of disruptive innovation, which has a way of transforming industries. And health care is ripe for innovation.

Jim Watson is a partner with PBC Advisors, LLC, in Oak Brook. Kimberly Young is a senior health care consultant with PBC Advisors. The company provides business and management consulting and accounting services to physician practices and hospital systems. Visit their website at

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