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Healthcare Ridesharing Activity Surges; Focuses on Improving Care, Reducing Costs

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   January 04, 2019

Lyft's new healthcare VP weighs in on driving forces behind the trend and how this solution can help health systems

Due to lack of transportation, millions of Americans can't get to their medical appointments, leading to poorer health outcomes and costing health systems money. Megan Callahan, the recently hired vice president of healthcare for Lyft, is determined to change these dynamics.

The San Francisco-based ride-sharing company Callahan began working for in November already has made a head start, creating partnerships with organizations such as AllScripts, which provides access to 7.2 million patients; five health plans, including Blue Cross Blue Shield; nine out of the top 10 largest health systems in the U.S.; the top 10 non-emergency medical transportation brokers; and the American Cancer Society. Callahan brings more than two decades of experience in the healthcare industry to Lyft, serving most recently as chief strategy officer at Change Healthcare, and as senior vice president of corporate strategy & business development at McKesson prior to that.

Competitor Uber is also ramping up similar efforts, recently hiring seasoned healthcare consultant Aaron Crowell to lead its healthcare business along with Dan Trigub, who heads business development for Uber, after working for nearly three years at Lyft.


Why Patient Transportation Matters

Clearly, activity is surging in this industry sector. What's up and why should health systems care?

  • Millions of Patients Are Missing Appointments

Many media reports on this topic, along with promotional materials from Lyft and Uber, cite the fact that 3.6 million Americans miss medical appointments each year due to lack of transportation. While this is a significant number, the data is from a 2005 study, Cost-Benefit Analysis of Providing Non-Emergency Medical Transportation, published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which predicted that the number was likely to rise over time. "…Several factors and trends—population growth of groups in the target population, the graying of America, more expensive healthcare, rising prevalence of health conditions—will almost certainly lead to a larger target population in the future," according to the report.

  • Lack of Transportation Leads to Poorer Health Outcomes

Social determinants of health, including lack of access to transportation, are responsible for 40% of factors contributing to health, reports the American Hospital Association, citing a 2016 University of Wisconsin study.

  • Missed Appointments Cost Health Systems Money

Citing multiple studies published between 2010 and 2016, the American Hospital Association published a report in November 2017, Transportation and the Role of Hospitals, which said, "Missed appointments are associated with increased medical care costs for the patient, disruption of patient care and provider-patient relationships, delayed care, and increased emergency department visits. Missed appointments and the resulting delays in care cost the health system $150 billion each year in the U.S."

How Ridesharing Can Help; Callahan Weighs In

With this backdrop in mind, HealthLeaders sent questions to Callahan, who responded via email. Following are excerpts from our exchange, edited for space restrictions and clarity.

HealthLeaders: Access to healthcare in rural communities is a big problem. Addressing this challenge doesn't seem aligned with Lyft's current business model. How might your future strategies address this issue?

Callahan: Rural areas do have unique needs—and we’ve made it a priority to grow our business in these smaller markets. In fact, in our smallest 150 markets, we had a 25% growth in service from 2017-2018. We’ve seen these great upward trends due to the dedication of our team, which is constantly working on creative ways/innovative structures to better serve rural/non-urban, and access can be a significant problem. Zooming out, Lyft is actually available in 50 states, with statewide coverage in 49. 95% of Americans have access to a Lyft ride. We will continue to work with our partners to provide rides to those [who] need them most.

HL: What innovative services or technology are in development at Lyft that might impact or help address the needs of the healthcare market?

Callahan: I see an immense, exciting opportunity to reimagine a critical part of healthcare: transportation. We’ve already seen the incredible impact better transportation can have, by reducing missed appointments, cutting costs, and improving patient satisfaction. In the near-term, I'll be focused on continuing to find ways to reduce the healthcare transportation gap for patients—leveraging Lyft Concierge, which enables organizations, such as health systems, to schedule a ride for patients. This product is especially helpful as patients may not have smartphones, or access to the Lyft app, including many seniors. The organization can then cover the cost of the ride as well, if they so choose.

HL: How do you explain the success Lyft has experienced so far in in healthcare? What trends and needs are being met by your ridesharing solution?

Callahan: I think Lyft has taken a very commonsense approach to healthcare transportation that addresses two of the main trends impacting the healthcare industry today—a focus on cost-efficient options due to declining reimbursement, and the fact that patients want a retail/consumer experience, and moreover, an on-demand retail experience. They want their healthcare to be like the many experiences we now command through our phones or Alexa. Easy, smart, and real time. Lyft has done that in healthcare, and the beauty of it is that they have done it without the need for the patient to even have a smartphone. It’s all on the backend...done by the discharge nurse or the case manager for example.

HL: Where do you expect Lyft's next leap in growth to come from in the healthcare sector; how do you plan to stimulate continued growth?

Callahan: We have been laser-focused on providing transportation solutions for patients alongside our partners. I think we have just scratched the surface of what we can do. We’ll continue to build on our existing partnerships across the healthcare ecosystem to identify new use cases and opportunities. Our ability to provide efficient and affordable transportation—both for on-demand and scheduled transportation—means that our goals are very much aligned with our partners.

With the new Medicare Advantage guidelines, I see an enormous opportunity for health plans to better address social determinants of health—things like transportation—which can have a significant health impact. As the industry recognizes that medical care is just one part of healthcare, Lyft is in the unique position to contribute to more expansive thinking about how we approach healthcare costs and outcomes in this country.

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.

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