Patient transport: Using Lyft, Uber reduces wait times, boosts care access, saves money

Patient in wheelchair entering car

Photo credit: Getty/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Millions of Medicaid and Medicare patients have trouble getting transportation to and from nonemergency medical appointments each year, potentially exacerbating chronic conditions and leading to higher healthcare costs down the road. But pilot programs show that partnerships with ride-hailing programs such as Lyft and Uber could provide a cost-effective solution to transportation barriers.

The federal government spends an estimated $2.7 billion each year on nonemergency medical transportation for Medicaid patients, noted an opinion piece published Tuesday in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. But, through partnerships with ride-hailing programs, private payers are getting in on the action as well.

In fact, pilot programs with Lyft and its partners in New York and California were able to cut average per-ride costs by 32.4 percent, from $31.54 to $21.32, according to the article. Over a two-month period involving 479 rides, average wait times compared with other forms of nonemergency medical transportation fell by 30 percent, from 12.5 minutes to 8.8 minutes. Satisfaction scores were about 80 percent, according to the JAMA article, which noted there’s room for improvement.

Uber is working with a new company, Circulation, to fulfill third-party ride requests for patients. Lyft has a Web-based program called Concierge in which it works with National MedTrans, a nonemergency medical transportation benefit manager involved with the pilot programs in New York and California. The programs target transportation fraud as well as transportation barriers, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

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The California pilot involved the CareMore Health System health maintenance organization that operates Medicare Advantage plans. CareMore members call a dedicated phone number, eliminating the need for patients to have a smartphone to access the ride-hailing service. Requests are transferred security to National MedTrans, which uses Concierge to dispatch a Lyft driver. CareMore personnel no longer verify the request and member’s benefits, or relay the request to a third-party transportation company.

While these programs target Medicaid and Medicare Advantage patients, MedStar Health launched a partnership last spring with Uber for a Web-based service to get patients to doctor and hospital appointments. Patients had to pay their own fares, but MedStar officials said at the time they were considering piloting a subsidized ride program based on need. 

“Great clinical care is only great if patients can get to it; ultimately, our partnership with Lyft makes accessing healthcare easier,” said Sachin H. Jain, M.D., president of CareMore, in an announcement. “Although the program is in the early phases, the results are promising and represent a significant shift--challenging the status quo to do what is right for patients.”