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Analysis

Why Health Systems Need Ride-Share Partnerships

By Bruce Japsen  
   January 20, 2020

Uber and Lyft are helping health systems to address social determinants of health and increase revenue.  

Hospitals and health systems are increasingly partnering with ride-sharing giants Uber and Lyft to improve health outcomes, increase patient satisfaction, and boost revenue.

Just this week, Lyft announced a partnership with Sutter Health "to help support patient and staff transportation needs" for the 24-hospital system in northern California that serves 3 million people. The deal follows other partnerships like those Uber has formed with BayCare Health System, MedStar Health, the Cleveland Clinic, and Boston Medical Center, executives at the ride-sharing company's healthcare unit, Uber Health, told HealthLeaders.

Both Uber and Lyft say they are aggressively pursuing ways to work with hospitals and health systems and see the healthcare business as a key growth area for the ride-sharing industry.

"Finding new and innovative ways to work with hospitals and health systems to remove transportation as a barrier to care for patients is key to what we do and remains a high priority for the Uber Health team," Dan Trigub, Head of Uber Health told HealthLeaders.

Uber to Tap Into Hospitals Via Cerner Relationship

Trigub said a partnership Uber Health signed with Cerner will "be giving us access to thousands of more health systems this year and beyond who rely on Cerner's EHR." Cerner's clients, which include hundreds of hospitals and other medical care providers, are embedding Uber Health into Cerner's EHR so "healthcare providers can seamlessly schedule non-emergency transportation on behalf of patients, caregivers and staff," the companies said when announcing their partnership last fall.

As health insurance companies shift their payments away from fee-for-service medicine to value-based models that pay providers based on health outcomes, hospitals and health systems need to find ways to make sure their patients are getting healthcare in the right place, amount, and time. And that means getting to the hospital, doctor's office, or clinic in a timely manner.

"Health systems increasingly view transportation as an essential component of value-based care programs," said Dan Clarin, senior vice president at consulting firm Kaufman Hall.

Ride sharing is being woven into commercial health insurance plans and for 2020 several Medicare Advantage plans that contract with the federal government to provide private benefits for seniors have included Lyft and Uber after the CMS changed rules to offer more supplemental health benefits that help improve or maintain the health of seniors.

Hospitals and health systems already using Uber and Lyft have reduced the number of patient no-shows and cancellations for appointments. For example, MedStar Health, Uber's partner in Maryland and the Washington, D.C., market, said its number of missed patient appointments has been reduced for doctor office visits using ride-sharing services.

"MedStar Health has increased schedule fill rates in certain practices by as much as 5–10 percentage points, creating a significant increase in revenue," Uber said in a case study report on the relationship. Uber did not provide specific financial figures.

Before formalizing its partnership with Lyft, Sutter and the ride-sharing company studied patient usage and discharges from Sutter's California Pacific Medical Center Pacific campus emergency room. "In three months' time, the program reduced [patient pickup] wait times from an average of 23 minutes to three minutes," Sutter and Lyft said in their partnership announcement.

Studying patient use and even interest in ride sharing is important for hospitals and health systems to consider, industry analysts say. "Health systems should be mindful that some consumers are still skeptical of ride-hailing services and determine whether a ride-hailing service will be an appropriate fit for the populations they serve," Kaufman Hall’s Clarin said.

But ride-sharing companies say what they are finding is that patients see these services as more reliable, particularly in more rural areas and medically underserved areas that tend to be low income, and people don’t have their own transportation or lack access to public transit.

"For some, it's not as simple as traveling from Point A to Point B," Sutter Health Chief Innovation Officer Chris Waugh said. "There are numerous real-world factors in between. Our approach takes the burden away from our patients and staff and puts them in the best position to receive the care they need or deliver the care they are trained to give."

Ride Share Addresses Social Determinants

Sutter said they can also work with Lyft to address social determinants of health. And this is a strategy that analysts say will make health systems more attractive to the health plans that pay doctors and hospitals.

"Given the insurance industry shift away from the antiquated fee-for-service model and towards value-based payments, health systems are under the gun to improve quality while reducing costs and the best way to do this is to tackle non-medical social determinants of health," said Jerry Vitti, CEO of Healthcare Financial Inc., a Boston-based firm that helps connect low-income beneficiaries to disability benefits and has health plans and health systems among his clients.

"[Health systems] are zeroing in on transportation because it isn’t as complicated and costly as addressing other determinants like housing and food insecurity," Vitti said. "You can provide reliable transportation to doctor visits for more patients faster and at less cost, improving health outcomes and the bottom line of those taking risk."

As one example, Vitti cites the high cost of care for newborns in the post-neonatal ICU.

"Families that lack transportation options are less likely to follow up with pediatric wellness visits, which can result in costly trips to the ER, inpatient hospitalizations, and readmissions," Vitti said. "By partnering with ride-sharing companies, health systems help patients avoid negative outcomes, which can lead to massive cost savings."

“[Health systems] are zeroing in on transportation because it isn’t as complicated and costly as addressing other determinants like housing and food insecurity. You can provide reliable transportation to doctor visits for more patients faster and at less cost, improving health outcomes and the bottom line of those taking risk.”

Bruce Japsen is a contributing editor for HealthLeaders.

Photo credit: Daniel Dror / Shutterstock


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Both Uber and Lyft are aggressively pursuing ways to work with hospitals and health systems and see the healthcare business as a key growth area.

Hospitals and health systems already using Uber and Lyft have reduced the number of patient no-shows and cancellations for appointments.

Ride sharing is being woven into commercial health insurance plans and for 2020 several Medicare Advantage plans.


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