Uber Health rolls out new features to reduce language, technology barriers for patients

Uber Health is rolling out new features for its medical transportation service including multilingual notifications and scheduling for landline phone users.

The new features are designed to reduce friction for patients and pain points for providers when arranging patient rides to and from appointments and hospital discharges, the company said.

Uber launched Uber Health, its healthcare arm, in March 2018, and the business has grown 300% year on year since it rolled out, the company reported.

Uber's healthcare services have been adopted by more than 1,000 healthcare organizations.

Both Uber and its main competitor Lyft have been pushing deeper into the healthcare space with provider-requested ride services.

Both companies have taken steps to integrate their application programming interfaces with major electronic health record (EHR) vendors.

Uber Health executives have said its partnership with Cerner enables deeper interoperability within the healthcare and ride-sharing industries. Lyft has integrated its service into Allscripts' EHR.

The two companies also have both put a focus on Medicaid as a key market as they make significant moves into healthcare.

RELATED: Uber announces integration with Cerner EHR system for U.S. providers

Uber Health's new features were designed based on feedback from healthcare organizations about pain points in the nonemergency medical transportation patient experience. The goal is to ensure technology is never the limiting factor in getting someone the care they need, Akarshan Kumar, product lead for Uber Health, told FierceHealthcare.

The new features also are part of Uber Health's focus on building a differentiated product in the competitive medical transportation space.

"We want to make sure we're providing the best-in-market product for nonemergency medical transportation with the most accurate and reliable ETA (estimated time of arrival), the best cost and more reliable service. We see a direct impact on health outcomes and we also see a direct impact on the moving space forward," Akarshan Kumar, product lead for Uber Health, told FierceHealthcare.

Among the new features, Uber Health now offers designated pickup spots similar to the technology used on the rider app at airports and other large venues.

RELATED: Uber And Lyft ride-sharing services hitch onto Medicaid

Patient pickups can be challenging, especially if a patient is located in a larger hospital campus where all buildings may share the same street address, Kumar said.

With multilingual notifications, healthcare providers can send pickup instructions to riders in 44 different languages via text messaging. 

Recognizing that a segment of the population does not use smartphones, Uber Health also set up landline scheduling for patients. With this service, caregivers can schedule a ride for a patient, and ride details such as car make and model, driver name and license plate number are shared via an automated landline call with the patient, Kumar said.

"We have realized that we have a diverse base of users and we are serving patients who are young to much older patients. Our users range from people who are really familiar with technology and smartphones to people who don’t own smartphones and who are new to ride-sharing in general," Kumar said.

Traditionally, arranging rides for patients who use landline phones has been a very hands-on process for providers and caregivers, he said.

"The ultimate goal is for there to be minimal monitoring or assistance needed by the provider," he said.

Direct driver messaging is another new feature, so healthcare providers can now message drivers directly on their driver app. This ensures drivers don’t need to toggle between the app and SMS notifications and makes facilitating a pickup for a rider easier.

Providers also can now order round-trip rides for patients rather than separate trips.

The new features began rolling out in late 2019 and will become widely available by April.