Corporations struggle to do what health-care system won’t

By Editorial Board

Uber launched Uber Health on March 1, a new form of non-emergency medical transportation.

The new service allows patients to schedule rides to and from medical appointments hours before or up to 30 days in advance. Providers who order the rides do so through an online dashboard, and patients receive a text message or phone call for information about their trip, making rides accessible to those without  smartphones.

Lyft Concierge, which launched in 2016, allows businesses to schedule rides on behalf of individuals, and Lyft has already partnered with health-care providers such as Blue Cross Blue Shield with this platform. On March 5, Lyft announced it is expanding its medical transportation service after partnering with Allscripts, one of the largest electronic health-care service companies.

Uber and Lyft have touted their services as solutions for the 3.6 million people who miss appointments due to a lack of accessible medical transportation. Although their services should be great ways to modernize medical transportation, Uber Health and Lyft Concierge come with concerns.

Unlike Medicaid’s non-emergency transportation program, for which a transportation provider’s staff must receive patient privacy and safety training, neither ridesharing company requires drivers to have any special training for escorting patients to and from their appointments. This poses a serious health risk for passengers who may be dealing with severe, chronic illnesses and, in the event of an emergency, will not have proper assistance.

Uber has stated its service is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which protects patients’ privacy, but the company has already failed multiple times in ensuring both drivers’ and passengers’ information is protected. After revealing in November 2017 that hackers had stolen 57 million riders’ information in 2016, the company faces another lawsuit in Pennsylvania where it broke a state law for failing to notify potential victims their information was stolen.

Uber and Lyft say their platforms will cut the number of medical appointments patients miss, but a March 2018 study in JAMA Internal Medicine came to a different conclusion. In a five-month clinical trial following 786 adults with Medicaid with a mean age of 46 years old who used rideshare companies for medical transportation, there was no effect on the rate of appointments patients missed.

Although there are issues with these services, we are seeing an age-old effort by corporations to fill the gaps in the health-care system. Apple, Amazon and Google have also begun to infiltrate the industry with Apple’s wellness clinics for its employees, Amazon’s venture with JP Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway into cutting health-care costs for employees, and Google possibly entering into Medicaid-managed care plans.

With so many faults in national health care, companies that dominate the market are taking advantage of a broken system to compensate for the country’s missteps and making a profit from bandage solutions. If Google enters the health insurance industry, for example, and the company successfully helps bring down costs, it has the potential of raking in up to $1 trillion.

We can keep giving large companies more power as our middle man to the services and care we deserve, or we can question how our wellbeing has ended up in their hands in the first place.