Uber Health Gives Patients Rides to Doctor's Appointments

It could fill an important healthcare niche.

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Everyone needs to visit a doctor at some point, but not everyone can drive there. Non-emergency medical transportation is the niche Uber hopes to fill with a new service called Uber Health, designed specifically to give patients rides to doctor's appointments.

Uber Health allows patients and healthcare providers to coordinate transportation with appointments. Rides can be scheduled anytime from immediately to up to 30 days in advance so that, in theory, a person can schedule a doctor's appointment and book a ride at the same time. The service is coordinated through text messaging, so patients who don't have smartphones can use it.

Uber said that more than 100 U.S. healthcare organizations are already using Uber Health as part of a beta testing program. The company said it provides clear monthly billing statements so that organizations can track how much they're spending on transportation, assuming that they front the costs of rides for patients. Those records are likely important for billing insurance companies for services as well.

Because it relates to healthcare, ensuring confidentiality is even more important for Uber Health than the company's other services. Uber doesn't have the best track record when it comes to privacy, but the company claims Uber Health complies with HIPAA, the U.S. government's medical-confidentiality regulations. However, it's unclear what will happen in the event of data breaches, such as the one that exposed the data of 57 million Uber users in 2016 and only became public late last year. HIPAA regulations are strictly enforced, so Uber may be leaving itself open to a repeat of 2017's string of government investigations and scandals.

While cybersecurity will have to be closely monitored, Uber Health could provide a valuable service. Uber claims that 3.6 million Americans miss doctor's appointments every year due to lack of transportation. A recent study found that many patients are already using Uber instead of ambulances. The study's authors noted that people often use ambulances in nonemergency situations because they have no other way to get to a hospital. Uber provides that alternative, saving ambulances for the people who really need them, the study's authors said.