Consumer-Facing Services: Can Uber, Lyft and Others Serve As “Connective Tissue” in Healthcare?

“Value-based care is the future of healthcare, but it’s complex and labor-intensive to deliver and scale. Uber Health addresses this challenge head-on. Our platform streamlines coordination across multiple benefits—non-emergency medical transportation, prescription delivery, and food and over-the-counter medication delivery, empowering payers and providers to support patients beyond the four walls of a medical office. And, because our platform is built on the largest mobility network in the world, we’re uniquely capable of meeting these needs and unlocking the potential of value-based care at scale.”

Caitlin Donovan, global head of Uber Health
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One of the key recognized impediments in healthcare is access to care. Often, when this issue is discussed, it devolves into a conversation regarding how communities don’t have enough physicians or healthcare services, how there isn’t an easy way for people to get the care they need, etc. While these are incredibly important topics, another critical issue rarely gets discussed: the logistics of accessing care.

Image Credit: Kaiser Family Foundation

Millions of Americans do not have the means to physically get to the hospital or physician themselves—that is, they have to rely on public transportation, relatives or friends, or other external variables to ensure they can access healthcare services promptly. Both Lyft and Uber saw an opportunity in this problem: provide an easier way to acquire non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT).

Since 2018, Uber has worked with health plans in the US, mainly behind the scenes, to offer services to members, like transportation, particularly for the elderly on Medicare plans and those on Medicaid plans serving low-income Americans. It’s also delivered medications. Now, Uber is adding groceries and over-the-counter medical items to its Uber Health services. The program, in beta testing now, aims to be in place for health plans in 2024. It would allow healthcare professionals to prescribe groceries or meals to people, as well as over-the-counter medical items. Anyone from a doctor to a care coordinator can log on to Uber’s health platform and determine which patients might need groceries or restaurant delivery and get them sent to the patient.

YouTube Video Credit: Uber Health

Uber is the latest company to bet big on prescribing food to prevent higher medical costs. Instacart in March launched digital tools to allow doctors to prescribe food the way they might prescribe a medication. Meanwhile, companies like Kroger and investors like Andreessen Horowitz are betting big on the approach. Healthier eating habits could reduce the need for some medicines to treat chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease or prevent them from progressing to the point where a person needs additional medications or care. Healthier eating members could have significant financial implications for insurers. One study published in October found that insurers could save $13.6 billion in annual medical spending and prevent 1.6 million hospitalizations by providing meals tailored to an individual’s needs.

Then there’s Lyft

Although the popular ride-sharing app Lyft Inc. (Nasdaq: LYFT) was formed in 2012, Buck Poropatich considers 2016 a turning point for the company. That’s when company leaders decided to take a look at health care. Lyft’s healthcare strategy puts the company squarely within home-based care. It has partnered in the space for years with companies such as Right at Home, Comfort Keepers, and Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM). The company’s objective in the area is not to disrupt it but to find a specific niche within it. Poropatich cited a recent study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that found 5% of American adults reported forgoing health care in 2022 due to transportation barriers.

“That means for 10 million Americans, health care is either inaccessible at its worst and inconvenient at best. There was just a very natural and obvious fit for Lyft, where we can leverage automated transportation to get people to the care that they want. Since then, frankly, it’s been kind of a rocketship of growth and opportunity.”

Buck Poropatich, Lyft Healthcare

Poropatich believes Lyft can help patients get to healthcare appointments outside their homes. At the same time, he thinks it can help get caregivers and clinicians to those at-home visits while also reducing windshield time for them. Ultimately, Lyft wants to reduce costs, improve convenience and enhance accessibility for patients and its partners.

“This is not a threat to the academic medical center. It is a collaboration and an orchestration, and we work within the ecosystem and with the partners we have to make sure that we’re appropriately leveraged. And, when we can, bring an incredible member experience.”

Buck Poropatich, Lyft Healthcare

Uber and Lyft use a B2B model, allowing partner healthcare providers to use their platforms in API or website form. This will enable doctors to schedule rides in advance or in real-time for patients, with no smartphone necessary. Each month, Uber charges the healthcare provider, which then either covers the cost or passes it along to insurance companies or patients directly.

Lyft has partnered with many of the largest U.S. healthcare systems and insurance providers, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield, Humana, and Allscripts, reaching tens of millions of patients. In the Bay Area, that includes Sutter Physician Services, UCSF, Dignity Mercy General, El Camino Hospital, and more. Uber wants to use its grip on the U.S. market to compete with global aspirations down the pipeline. Already the rideshare company has partnered with its share of small and large healthcare operators, including MedStar, Boston Medical Center, and 123 Home Care, which uses the services also to transport its caregivers. Recent data shows that Uber now has over 3,000 healthcare clients.

Beyond Uber and Lyft, hospitals and healthcare systems are working on their homegrown transportation options, too, as they seek to tailor transit capacities to communities that encompass other challenges, such as getting child care.

Using Uber and Lyft for Clinical Trials

Clinical trials continue to struggle with patient engagement, which has a tangible impact on the cost of care globally; approximately 27% of the more than $7 billion spent on clinical trials in the U.S. can be attributed to patient recruitment and enrollment. Moreover, every day of delay during the development process represents up to $1 million in potential revenue loss for the trial sponsor. With such high stakes, it’s unsurprising that the industry is starting to think outside the box to improve patient engagement in clinical studies.

“When you look specifically at clinical trials, we have major issues with dropouts and we know some of those are just about logistics, just about getting to those trial sites.”

John Brownstein, CIO of Boston Children’s Hospital (and Uber’s Health Advisor)

To address these issues, a number of sponsors and CROs are beginning to partner with ridesharing services — Brownstein launched Circulation (spun out of Boston Children’s Hospital in 2016 with more than $10M in venture capital funding and sold, two years later, to Logisticare for $58M), which leverages Uber technology that not only gets patients to trial sites but also allows trial organizers to coordinate the rides themselves and monitor where patients are in real-time. Lyft is dabbling in similar ventures. They have a partnership with Continuum in which they’ll be offering free transportation to eligible patients enrolled in trials with their partners.

Why this is important

We’re now seeing more and more partnerships leveraging consumer-facing services and technologies to improve efficiency. The Uber Health website states, “We help complete the picture of care for healthcare organizations.” As the home becomes a more important site of care, using partnerships that have the scale, infrastructure, and competence to address critical social determinants of health like travel issues, access to medicines, and food insecurity can support and accelerate the efforts of health systems, businesses, and payers to move to genuine value-based care. As a result, patients and their families will benefit from better access, lower costs, and better outcomes – worthy goals by anyone’s standards.

Articles used in researching this topic:

Health Populi Blog by Jane Sarasohn-Kahn –

Forbes article by Bruce Japsen –

Healthcare Dive article by Rebecca Pifer –

Fortune article by Alexa Mikhail –

Patient Engagement article by Sarai Rodriguez –

Managed Healthcare Executive article by Briana Contreres –

Healthcare IT News article by Andrea Fox –

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