Service Tries New Tricks to Aid Users’ Health, Safety
The ride-sharing service Uber, which uses a smartphone app and independently contracted car drivers to move customers from Point A to Point B more easily, is testing ways to make itself more essential to consumers’ health and lives.
This summer, the service will begin testing a 911 emergency-assistance button on its smartphone app for Denver-area users, The Denver Post’s Joe Rubino reported. The new feature will build on Uber’s ability to send drivers to customers’ actual locations by integrating with the region’s 911 dispatchers, who can send police, ambulances, or firefighters to their locations instead.
The announcement comes a few weeks after Uber said it is experimenting with a service that could let doctors’ offices send Uber cars to bring patients to their appointments and then bill the patient’s medical insurers. As Carolyn Johnson of The Washington Post reported, the feature could reduce one of healthcare’s most-vexing problems: Getting patients to keep their appointments.
App in Denver Test Will Share Callers’ Locations with 911
If pressed, the emergency button will connect riders and drivers directly with emergency dispatchers, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a recent blog post. In Denver, Uber is testing the added feature of automatically sharing the vehicle’s location and trip details with 911 dispatchers.
According to Khosrowshahi, federal regulators estimate that the lives of about 10,000 Americans could be saved each year if emergency responders could get to a 911 caller even one minute faster. The ride-sharing company is partnering with telecommunications software developer RapidSOS to integrate its geolocation system with Denver 911 service. Uber will evaluate the system for expansion to other regions.
911 Dispatchers Aren’t Always Able to Locate Cell Callers
911 callers are often too excited or confused to give complete and accurate descriptions to 911 dispatchers. And often, the dispatchers can only rely on network-based location information to find those people needing assistance, RapidSOS says. Some emergency response systems do make use of cell phones’ GPS systems, but the method is unreliable.
Applications such as Uber, however, use a variety of smartphone-based location methods, such as GPS and Wi-Fi access points to verify locations. Using the Uber app makes the information available immediately so it can be transmitted to 911 even before a dispatcher answers the line.
Soon, Users Will Be Able to Share Ride Info with Friends
Uber plans to expand its safety efforts soon by launching an in-app safety page. It will give riders details about insurance and the driver-screening process as well as provide safety tips. Users can also designate as many as five “trusted contacts”, friends or family with whom the app can share location and trip details — when the user decides to share it.
New Screenings Planned After Seedy Driver Scandal
Uber’s emphasis on safety is a welcome improvement in Colorado, where its reputation took a hit in November. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission fined the ride-sharing service $8.9 million last year for failing to screen its drivers sufficiently. The state agency found that 57 Colorado Uber drivers had prior felony convictions and certain driving offenses that should have barred them from the job. The commission has since reduced the fine by about half.
Uber will now run annual background checks on all drivers regardless of local requirements. It is developing a new system that will monitor public records and notify the service if a driver runs afoul of the law.
Uber Trying New Partnerships to Transport Medical Patients
Getting to a doctor’s office isn’t always easy, especially if you were injured in a car accident that damaged your vehicle. Uber and its competitor Lyft, which lets private car owners ferry passengers anywhere for a fee, are playing an increasing role in getting patients to their appointments. And the two are taking big steps to make themselves seen as viable options for medical transportation, according to a recent report by The Denver Post’s Joe Amon. In March, Uber launched Uber Health, a portal that lets doctors’ offices arrange rides for their patients. Lyft began an arrangement with Denver Health in 2016 in which it brings eligible patients to and from the hospital in exchange for payment by the hospital.
In a further development, Uber and UCHealth recently announced a partnership in which Uber will give a 30 percent discount for rides that start or end at most facilities in the UCHealth system.
Colorado patients do have other options for getting to their healthcare providers. The Regional Transportation District offers a car service accessible to Medicaid recipients. However, scheduling those rides can be inconvenient and often need to be done in advance, The Post reported. Some patients will call an ambulance to get there, even when it’s not an emergency situation. It’s an expensive option for the insurers and government agencies that foot the bill.
The Colorado Health Institute surveyed patients in 2017 and found that more than 5 percent weren’t able to get medical care because they didn’t have rides to the doctor’s office; a factor that more patients are speaking about over the past five years since the institute has asked the question. Another study cited by The Post indicated that about 3.6 million people across the United States go without medical treatment each year because of transportation problems. Those people also have a disproportionate rate of chronic or multiple conditions.
Ride-sharing services are making a big difference. Economists at the University of Kansas discovered that ambulance rides dropped by 7 percent or more in cities after Uber set up operations there. Some drivers reported transporting people with broken bones, flesh wounds, and other serious injuries who preferred paying for a Lyft or Uber ride than an ambulance.
Uber is going two steps further to accommodate passengers with physical limitations. Spokeswoman Stephanie Sedlak told The Post that the company is trying out two pilot programs called UberWAV and UberASSIST, which carry passengers in wheelchair accessible vehicles or dispatch drivers who are trained to assist riders entering and exiting their vehicles. Neither of the services is running in Colorado yet, Sedlak said.
Uber officially encourages people with serious medical emergencies to call 911 for an ambulance, The Post reported. Drivers have the option to cancel rides when they are uncomfortable.
Aubrey Hill of the Denver Center for Health Progress told The Post she doubts every patient will have a great experience taking Uber or Lyft.
“The challenge with Uber, and I hope that they can work on this over time, is that a lot of drivers might not be trained specifically to drive people with health care needs.”