As just about anyone with a chronic illness can tell you, scheduling and keeping appointments can be tricky and time-consuming—even when you have a car or can rely on a friend or family member to take you. But for those who must depend on public transportation, making it to appointments on time can require a significant amount of planning, and, in some cases, getting back and forth can take nearly all day. Even routine medical appointments can be difficult to manage when you don’t have access to private transportation—never mind the more frequent visits associated with many chronic health problems.
Could ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft be the answer? Some hospitals, health care providers, and insurance companies think so. Providers—including Medicaid—are establishing partnerships with ride-hailing companies throughout the U.S. The availability of these programs is limited at this time, but many experts think the opportunity for growth is substantial. Even patients who don’t have access to ride-hailing apps may be able to use the service by calling their provider or logging on to the provider’s website. Patient cost for the service varies.
The services are provided for non-emergency transportation. Advocates of the programs tout the benefits: When keeping appointments becomes too difficult, more appointments are missed—possible leading to adverse effects on patients’ health. In 2013, up to 51 percent of patients involved in 25 clinical trials indicated that a lack of transportation affected their access to health care.
One study showed that 82 percent of people who keep medical appointments have access to a vehicle, while 58 percent of those who miss appointments have access to private transportation. According to another study, patients who relied on a bus to get to and from appointments were twice as likely to skip doctor visits than patients with access to a car. Missed appointments also affect health care providers and medical institutions, resulting in lost revenue.
Some larger providers offer shuttle services and/or volunteer drivers to pick up and drop off patients, but these usually must be arranged by the patient ahead of time. There are disadvantages of using ride-hailing services for medical appointments. For example, many are not wheelchair or handicap accessible, and rides can be difficult to arrange in rural areas.