Free rides don't solve the problem of missed doctor appointments, one study finds

Lyft car
A study found ride-hailing services didn't make a big difference in the number of missed doctor appointments. (Praiselightmedia/CC-BY-SA-4.0)

Patient no-shows, which hurt revenue and create scheduling gaps, are a major frustration for physician practices. Healthcare organizations have been experimenting with using ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft to solve the problem, offering their patients a convenient, low-cost way to get to their appointments.

But giving Medicaid patients a free ride to the doctor’s office didn’t reduce the rate of missed doctor appointments at primary care practices, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. 

Researchers conducted a clinical trial that included 786 Medicaid patients, roughly half of whom had access to ride-hailing services to get to their appointments at two primary care practices in Philadelphia. The study found no significant difference in the number of missed appointments, including both no-shows and same-day cancellations.

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The rate of missed appointments was 36.5% for those offered the complimentary ride-hailing service and 36.7% for those who didn't get the offer of free transportation. Uptake was also low: only 26% of patients who had access to free rides took advantage of the service.

Researchers said that targeting populations with specific transportation needs or delivering rideshare services in alternative ways warrants further testing.

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