Uber just won mobile integrated health care; here's how

The on-demand ride service is able to deliver mass vaccination, preventative care and layperson first aid in a way that EMS can't match


Uber, the app that connects drivers and riders, is now the unofficial leader of mobile integrated health care in the U.S. Uber users in 35 U.S. cities can purchase a $10 wellness pack from UberHEALTH and at the same time the user and nine friends and colleagues can receive a free flu shot from a nurse.

Medical care — emergent and nonemergent — in many places is constrained by tradition bound fire departments, overwhelmed by bureaucratic administrative regulation, and reimbursement that is inadequate and incentivizes transport over the most appropriate health care for the patient's needs. With billions at stake Uber is one of many innovative companies looking to nibble or take big bites at health care and encroach on EMS at the same time.

Here are four reasons Uber is winning mobile integrated health care and able to deliver mass vaccination, preventative care and layperson first aid in a way that EMS is unable to:

1. Uber can lose money delivering health care services
With a market capitalization at $40 billon and soaring ridership around the world Uber can offer free health care with no thought of profit or even covering the cost of hundreds of drivers and nurses, as well as thousands of flu shots. This free, preventative health care service is an outstanding play to market Uber's convenience, reliability and professionalism, which are attributes EMS agencies should be regularly marketing.

2. EMS has no mechanism to plan, deliver and scale mass preventative care
UberHEALTH is delivering preventive care across 35 U.S. cities. Though the DHS and the CDC likely have plans for opening mass vaccination clinics after a bioterrorism event or in the wake of a regional natural disaster those are reactive. Pause for a moment to think about the monumental effort it would take for the five largest fire departments and EMS agencies in your state to meet, plan, and deliver a flu prevention service at this time next year. Just the thought of the meetings and likely jurisdictional bickering is giving me a headache (Is there an app for me to order acetaminophen and have it delivered?).

3. Only call EMS for emergencies
The EMS brand though limits the opportunities to expand service offerings. 911 is for emergencies. It says so right on the truck. DC Fire and EMS officials blame 911 abuse for ambulance shortages and not-so-serious public service announcements poke fun at 911 abuse and try to educate civilians on alternatives. But patients out of exasperation or ignorance still call 911 for nonemergent care. Some EMS agencies have started to recognize this and provide community paramedic and other social services for their superusers, which is great for the handful of people those programs target.

Uber specifically connects drivers and riders. But more generally Uber connects people with the places they need to go and the things they need to get. Uber can bring people to destinations, but it can also bring service and health care professionals to its users.

4. The step from flu shot to provision of lifesaving treatments is small
These treatments — intranasal naloxone, auto-injector epinephrine, dysrhythmia defibrillation, extremity tourniquets — used to be limited to ALS providers. Now any layperson, including an Uber driver can perform these interventions. They might not even need a prescription for the medications.

An Ubulance, might be a ways off, but an UberHEALTH fleet, staffed by a nurse or paramedic, is easy to imagine in urban areas. What happens to EMS if UberHEALTH can arrive faster than an ambulance and deliver care at a reasonable cost?

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