He drove a stranger home from the hospital. Now, his company's partnered with Uber on medical transportation

Seven years ago, Imran Cronk was volunteering at a hospital and watched as a recently discharged patient began to walk home.

It was around midnight, Cronk said. The patient, who arrived in an ambulance, said he lived about nine miles away. The North Carolina hospital was located in a rural area and there weren't other transportation options available.

So, Cronk said, he gave the patient a ride home. "It was weird driving a total stranger home in the middle of the night," he said. But it got the entrepreneur thinking about the role of transportation and mobility as a barrier to patients' access to care, he told FierceHealthcare.

In 2016, Cronk launched Ride Health, a company that developed a real-time transportation coordination platform. The web-based and mobile-enabled platform connects health plans and healthcare providers to a national network of transportation providers, whether that's a ride-hailing company or a mom and pop transportation company. Most recently, they announced, they will partner with Uber Health.

New York City-based Ride Health also coordinates transportation across all ride types and service levels, from public transit and taxis to wheelchair-accessible vehicles and ambulances.

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"The world of medical mobility is broader than just ride-sharing alone. There is a broad range of services from public transit to higher service levels. It's important to bring the same level of connectivity to all the rest of those services. We are building that interoperable layer," Cronk said.

Connecting health plans and Uber

The early-stage startup supports health plans in 10 states, handling their transportation benefit management and optimizing utilization across all transportation modes.

The company's platform integrates with dispatch, clinical, and customer relationship management systems to deliver real-time visibility and decision support, the company said. The company also tracks ride-level performance data and feedback to produce a rating of both the quality of service and cost of a ride.

Imran Cronk (Ride Health)

Ride Health monitors each ride throughout the trip for potential disruptions, such as late drivers or missed connections. If there's a disruption, automated notifications prompt a support team to intervene in real-time.

"Our core mission is that every patient, everywhere, should be able to access the care they need," Cronk said.

Ride Health announced Tuesday its partnership with Uber Health to help make healthcare transportation more accessible at scale, the companies said.

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Leveraged by Ride Health, Uber's network of drivers is a core component of moving patients and staff between their homes and care centers, including hospitals, clinics, rehab centers, senior care facilities, home care centers, and physical therapy centers.

The marketplace

An estimated 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical care each year because of transportation issues, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Some studies peg the cost of missed doctor's appointments at over $150 billion annually.

Especially vulnerable to transportation barriers are the elderly, disabled, and low-income populations, who are more likely to live alone and be socially isolated, without a car or in areas poorly served by public transit.

"Our health system and health plan customers appreciate the added flexibility that Uber Health brings to our network via its WAV and UberAssist products, which helps provide assistance to seniors and people with disabilities," Cronk said.

Healthcare transportation is attracting interest from investors as well.

Earlier this month, Ride Health closed a $6.2 million seed funding round led by Activate Venture Partners. The capital raise is joined by Newark Venture Partners, Anthro Ventures, BioAdvance, Leading Edge Ventures and Startup Health. 

Several health systems have teamed up with Ride Health to better coordinate rides for patients from their homes to medical appointments and from the hospital to home.

Philadelphia-based Penn Medicine reported that using the platform has helped to reduce costs related to patient transportation in the outpatient setting, reduced no-shows and patient length of stay.

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"It can take three buses and an hour for a patient to travel three miles," Roy Rosin, chief innovation officer of Penn Medicine, said in a statement. "That’s a significant obstacle that many patients, especially those low-income or mobility-challenged patients, can’t overcome."

Ride Health's platform enables Penn Medicine to order and track vehicles and has delivered a 98% rate of on-time arrivals, which dramatically cuts the high cost of a delay, Rosin said.

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care also is collaborating with Ride Health to offer non-emergency medical transportation at no cost for Medicare Advantage members in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.