Health

How Uber is Driving Health Care Innovations

We may soon be hailing MDs like cabs in this brave new world

The ride-hailing service and brainchild of Silicon Valley, Uber disrupted the limousine and taxi market, infiltrating what had been the accepted standard of hired transportation by offering a new employment opportunity to drivers — and a new technology-based option to their passengers.

“Unreliable service, inconvenience, uncomfortable surroundings, and high prices make customers unhappy, and given the opportunity, they will go elsewhere,” said the New England Journal of Medicine this week. “Uber’s technology-enabled incursion into a highly regulated market suggests that if consumers gain enough from a new solution, it can overcome powerfully entrenched economic and political interests.”

NEJM covers health care, however — not transportation. So why is it discussing Uber? Because the publication, among others, is asking a compelling question posed today in medicine: Is American health care close to being “Uber-ized” by a form of free-market, technology-driven concierge care that puts the power of “when, where and why” in the hands of patients?

“I am sick and tired of waiting for an appointment at my pediatrician’s office, and on top of that delays in prescriptions being sent to the pharmacy and delays in scheduling needed tests,” one mother of three in Malden, Massachusetts, told LifeZette. “How wonderful it would be, really, to order up a doctor with an app, and arrange to have her come to the house.”

[lz_ndn video =30020557]

The Uber business model, however, has its problems. It is unregulated and has proved to be often frustrating and sometimes dangerous, as the shootings by an Uber driver last month in Michigan sadly proved.

Do you support individual military members being able to opt out of getting the COVID vaccine?

By completing the poll, you agree to receive emails from LifeZette, occasional offers from our partners and that you've read and agree to our privacy policy and legal statement.

Uber’s “surge” pricing late at night or during high-demand hours raises rates far above what consumers are satisfied to pay. Some are worried that the easy hiring requirements — a clean car and an approved application — open the door to less qualified drivers and therefore more dangerous rides.

[lz_related_box id=”87346″]

Ironically, it may be Obamacare that is opening the door to an Uber type of model that would disrupt traditional health care.

As a tidal wave of newly insured patients surge to doctors’ offices, it may become difficult to see the doctor when ill, or even for routine check-ups. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates there will be a shortage of some 91,500 doctors by 2020 as Obamacare insurance coverage provisions are implemented and 30 million Americans become eligible for health insurance coverage.

Tess Timothy, writing in response to an article about concierge care on thehappymd.com, said, “I am a single mother, self-employed and have gone without health care coverage since I left corporate America (so that I could create a schedule to raise my children). Today being the final day to sign up for Obamacare, I was told today I make too little to get the tax credit … yet I make too much to qualify for Medicaid! I am so very frustrated, stuck in some health care gap gray area that makes no sense!”

Timothy said she was open to a new model of health care and finished her comments with: “I look forward to some drastic changes to our broken system and encourage physicians to adapt to the needs of our nation.”

[lz_related_box id=”111354″]

Using Silicon Valley-style innovation and attracting willing investors, services such as Heal summon a doctor to a customer’s home via an app. Heal launched in February 2015, and that same year raised $6.5 million from investors, including Qualcomm Executive Chairman Paul Jacobs, United Talent Agency Managing Director Jay Sures, and even entertainer Lionel Richie.

California-based Heal offers a network of 100 doctors in Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and offers house calls at a flat rate of $99 per patient. On its website, the group entices potential patients with, “Right to your door. To your home, office, hotel — literally wherever you are.”

Addressing the insurance factor, Heal states on its website, “Most Anthem and Blue Shield PPO members pay no more for a Heal house call than a typical office visit co-pay. Everyone else pays Heal’s $99 flat fee.”

But can health care really be compared to hailing a ride under the Uber model?

Not always.

[lz_related_box id=”84645″]

“The range of what these professionals can offer at home is somewhat limited,” said Michael Hiltzik, writing in the Los Angeles Times. “You’re not going to arrange a Pager or Heal appointment for anything that looks like, say, a cardiac event. Kidney stone with a pain rating of 10 out of 10? You want to be at the hospital.”

While most Americans still use the traditional health model — calling the doctor, setting up an appointment, receiving care at an office — new technology and new delivery models for all facets of health care are challenging the status quo. 23andMe, a $1.1 billion dollar company, empowers patients to formulate their own disease-screening strategies, for example.

“Uber’s message for health care is clear,” wrote the New England Journal of Medicine. “Providers have three choices: Ignore innovators and hope for the best; call for increasing regulation to make it harder for innovators to enter the market; or compete on quality and efficiency, disruptive though that might be. We recommend the last option.”

Join the Discussion

Comments are currently closed.