Ride-hailing services provide a reliable means to transport patients to care, but the potential downsides could include hacking risks and violations of anti-kickback laws.
Healthcare providers who want to use Uber Health, Lyft and other ride-hailing companies for their patients should first understand the potential risks and liabilities that could come with it.
Erica Mallon, a healthcare transactional and regulatory attorney with Tampa-based Carlton Fields, says ride-hailing services create exposure for providers that may not be immediately apparent.
In particular, she said, providers must be aware of anti-kickback laws and civil monetary penalties from fraud and abuse that could arise if providers offer Medicare, Medicaid or Tricare beneficiaries free or discounted transportation.
"That is one area that providers need to be very, very careful with," Mallon says. "That is a law that is targeted at providers and it has significant repercussions if they do not take the appropriate safeguards to ensure that they are not providing free and discounted transportation to induce beneficiaries to pursue medical services at their facilities."
"I could envision providers posting an ad on TV that says 'If you need dialysis services come to us and we will provide free transportation from anywhere in the 11-county radius,'" Mallon says.
"With just the advertisement for free or discounted transportation, particularly when you are looking to bring in patients from outside your immediate radius that wouldn't otherwise seek you out for services, there is significant risk there," she says.
Last year, the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services issued revised compliance guidelines on ride-hailing services, and Mallon recommends reading them before using the services.
"They explicitly state appropriate safeguards that providers can take to mitigate fraud and abuse risk. It relates to advertising for services, the cost of the transportation, who the transportation targets," she says.
"While it is not necessarily a death sentence if the provider doesn't meet each of those elements, the best way providers can protect themselves is to meet those safe harbors that were set forth by the government," she says.
There are other potential problems. For example, who’s liable if a patient is injured in a ride-hailing automobile crash, or assaulted by a driver?
John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.