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Take an Uber: The New Face of Emergency Transportation


If you need to get somewhere in a hurry, you might be used to calling a car using Uber or Lyft, two popular ride-share options here in the U.S. Just enter your payment information via an appropriate mobile app, and a car will arrive at your location in just a few minutes.

But what happens if you need to go to the hospital or doctor’s office? With Uber and Lyft drivers roaming the streets, many patients are choosing to call a car instead of taking an ambulance. After all, riding in an ambulance can cost several thousands of dollars, while taking an Uber can cost under $100, depending on your location and destination.

As a healthcare provider, it’s important to be aware of how emergency transportation continues to evolve. Some of your patients may have questions about which form of transportation is better than others. Let’s take a look at how taking an Uber is different from taking an ambulance, and how this decision can affect the health of your patients.

The Rise of Uber

Uber has completely upended the transportation industry in recent years. In fact, 14 million Uber trips are completed each day and over 10 billion trips have been completed worldwide. It’s become the go-to choice for millions of Americans when they need to get somewhere in a hurry. In 2018, 95 million people used the Uber app on a monthly basis.

Uber has effectively all but killed the American taxi and now, some have worried it’s doing the same thing to the ambulance industry. However, officials from Uber and Lyft do not encourage or condone calling a car for emergency care. From a corporate point of view, using these vehicles for emergency transportation comes with plenty of risk, including increased risk of fatality, cross-contamination, and a host of other concerns. For now, these companies want to remain out of the emergency transportation business.

However, many patients are choosing to hail a car instead of calling 9-1-1. According to a recent study of cities with Uber, the app has reduced per capita ambulance usage rates by around 7%. From the patient’s point of view, taking an Uber instead of an ambulance can seem like the best option. The U.S. spends billions of dollars on ambulance services every year, and a ride in one doesn’t come cheap. Although some states now have laws in place to protect consumers from overly high ambulance charges, the average bill for an ambulance ride is in the thousands of dollars – for a trip to the hospital that is only a few miles away. For example, one man reportedly was charged $3,660 for a four-mile ambulance ride back in 2017, according to the Washington Post.

Taking an Uber vs. Taking an Ambulance

Consumers have plenty of factors to consider when choosing between an Uber and an ambulance. If some of your patients are on the fence, talk to them about some of the differences between these two different forms of transportation:

  • Traveling with Medical Professionals

The main difference between taking an Uber and taking an ambulance is that one is staffed by licensed medical professionals, while the other is not. If someone isn’t breathing or needs emergency medical attention, it’s always best to call an ambulance instead of an Uber. As soon as the ambulance arrives, EMTs will immediately begin triaging the patient.

In an Uber, it’s just the patient and the driver. The person behind the wheel doesn’t have any medical training, which means the patient will have to wait until they arrive at the hospital before they can receive care.

  • Waiting Longer for Care

In most cases, calling an ambulance is faster than calling an Uber. Ambulances use sirens to get through traffic, so they can arrive at the patient’s location as quickly as possible. Ubers may get stuck in traffic as they head towards the nearest hospital or doctor’s office.

However, response rates tend to vary widely based on the patient’s location. In some areas, taking an Uber may ultimately be faster than taking an ambulance. It all depends on traffic, the distance between the patient and the nearest emergency room, and how many Uber drivers are in the area. Emergency vehicles are not immune to traffic, but they tend to get around faster than ordinary passenger vehicles.

  • Choice of Hospital

Emergency vehicles often have a duty to take patients to the nearest hospital, regardless of their personal preference. This may not matter to some patients, especially if there’s only one hospital in the area, but other patients may prefer one hospital over another for personal or religious reasons. Some hospitals have a better track record when it comes to treating certain diseases and illnesses.

If a patient wants to make sure they arrive at a certain hospital, even though it’s a little further away than other facilities, they may want to take an Uber instead of an ambulance.

  • Damaging Your Ride

There’s also a chance the patient could damage the vehicle if they choose to take an Uber. These vehicles are not designed for emergency transportation. If a patient is feeling sick, bleeding, or cannot control their bodily fluids for whatever reason, they could easily damage the interior of the vehicle. This could result in a steep fine and a nasty ride to the emergency room.

  • Saving Money

Ultimately, the choice between taking an Uber and taking an ambulance may all come down to cost. While emergency transportation may be covered by the patient’s insurance, those looking to save some money may choose to take an Uber instead. Patients should research their current health plan, so they know how much they’ll have to spend out of pocket, if anything, when calling an ambulance. Patients can also call 9-1-1 to see how long it would take an ambulance to arrive on the scene. They can then compare the ETA to that of an Uber driver.

Patients should never put their own health at risk just to save some money on a ride to the hospital. If someone truly needs an ambulance, they should call 9-1-1, instead of opening an app on their phone.

Keep these ideas in mind to help your patients choose between an Uber and an ambulance.


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