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The Future Of Medical Transportation Is Ride-Sharing

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When John Parker’s friend needed a lift to his medical appointment in Malibu from Simi Valley, his buddy didn’t call an ambulance or have his wife or neighbor drive him; instead the 75-year-old hailed a ride-sharing service. 

Parker said his friend’s insurance covered the ride for the trip to the doctor’s office.

Uber and Lyft, they are so much more efficient now,” said Parker, the chief financial officer at Parker Brown, a San Fernando-based construction company that specializes in building medical facilities.

Lyft in San Francisco
A Lyft driver in San Francisco

Parker said it is getting harder for elderly people — especially those with significant others who may be around the same age — to get to medical appointments or hospitals.

"It’s much easier to put him in a ride-share and for [his wife] to assist him,” he said. 

As the population ages and the demand for healthcare rises, the future of medical transportation is in ride-sharing services, experts say. Such arrangements will be a topic of conversation at Bisnow’s National Healthcare West event June 7 at the JW Marriott in Los Angeles.

Though there is a huge demand to develop medical facilities around public transportation stops, not enough healthcare providers are doing it yet, Parker said. 

And living in car-centric Los Angeles, Parker said people still prefer using cars rather than public transportation, especially for a medical appointment or a minor procedure.

“There’s an Orange [bus] line here that takes people all over the Valley but we’re not seeing any medical facilities being built around that line,” he said. “We haven’t seen that kind of development.”

Missed appointments cost the healthcare industry $150B each year, according to several healthcare reports

The reasons for the no-shows vary — mostly from the patient side, such as forgotten appointments due to too much time between visits, a distrust of seeing a doctor, cost and other reasons.

But one of the single biggest reasons is lack of transportation. 

University of Kansas Assistant Economics Professor David Slusky co-authored a study that found Uber's entry in more than 750 cities resulted in drop in ambulance rate.
University of Kansas' David Slusky

Lyft Regional Vice President Daniel Trigub, who leads healthcare, education and government partnerships for the ride-sharing company, said an estimated 3.6 million Americans have transportation issues that prevent them from getting to or from doctor appointments and about a quarter of those are lower-income patients, who have missed or rescheduled their appointments due to lack of transportation. 

Trigub said Lyft is partnering with insurance companies in an effort to cut those numbers in half by 2020. In April, the company launched Lyft Concierge, a service that helps a person schedule a ride to and from important appointments. Uber also launched a similar service earlier this year.

An October journal study examining 43 states where Uber was present, found that Uber provided a better and low-cost substitute for medical appointments for low-risk patients compared to high-cost ambulance service. David Slusky, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Kansas, co-authored the report with Dr. Leon S. Moskatel of the Department of Medicine at Scripps Mercy Hospital.

The study, using publicly available data, examined the ambulance rate and Uber’s presence in 766 cities in 43 states from 2013 to 2015. The study found a 7% decrease in the ambulance use rate. 

Slusky said during his research he heard from people who said they wanted to visit a hospital after experiencing a minor or medium health issue but did not want to pay a $2K ambulance bill.

“It is expensive to ride in an ambulance,” he said.

Ambulances still remain a vital part of patient medical transportation because of the health services medical personnel provide to patients on the way to the hospital. However, prices vary due to medical emergency. It remains unclear how much the average cost of an ambulance ride is. 

But there have been reports of insured people experiencing a non-life-threatening health concern being taken in an ambulance for a two- to four-mile ride to a hospital then receiving a medical bill of $700 to nearly $8K. The price goes up if the hospital is not in that person’s network or if they have to be transported again if the hospital could not provide the necessary service.

Parker Brown Chief Financial Officer John Parker
Parker Brown Chief Financial Officer John Parker next to a DMV office the company worked on

Slusky said his study points out the importance of finding a low-cost and efficient medical solution to transport patients.

“We spend more per capita than any other country in the world [in healthcare] and we have a pretty abysmal outcome for that,” Slusky said. “We are overpaying and under-getting and we have to do something about that. 

“So any way we can think about how to shift patients to a lower-cost provider — not all patients — without adverse consequence, we need to investigate every one of those things,” he said.

Slusky said he and Moskatel were not paid to do the study by Uber or any ride-sharing companies. It is part of his academic research, he said. Slusky is in the process of writing a follow-up study.

Request for comment from the American Ambulance Association was not returned.

Slusky said one day he would like to see a ride-sharing service have a defibrillator inside the vehicle and a 911 facetime video call for a dispatcher to monitor the situation. 

Parker Brown's Parker said he also believes the future of medical transportation is in ride-sharing services. 

He said many hospitals could use the red fire lane in front of the entrances as a drop-off area when emergency personnel are not present.

It is still too early to tell whether medical facilities will eventually create a dedicated drop-off location specifically for ride-sharing services, he said. 

But the demand is there.

“There’s just a huge need,” Parker said. “The number of people that are going to be over the age of 65 in Southern California and the LA area is a massive number so the need for medical facilities and how to transport patients is going to be huge in the future.”

Hear more from Trigub and other experts on the trends affecting healthcare real estate at Bisnow's National Healthcare West event June 7 at the JW Marriott in Los Angeles.