Rideshare Services Alleviating Senior Transportation Woes

By Maggie Cunningham

As clinicians, we think daily about problems and their solutions. If a patient is having trouble breathing, we go through a series of steps to diagnose and treat the problem. If a patient has a wound, we go through the proper steps to clean and heal it. But what happens when the problem is that the patient can't get to you for the right treatment? Again, you find a solution.

When visiting a doctor becomes a transportation hassle, patients begin to miss visits. This leads to untreated symptoms, which are costly for medical institutions losing potential revenue. Currently, if senior patients don't have the ability to drive themselves, they must call upon one of several alternatives:

  • Family and friends
  • Volunteers
  • Taxi
  • A city bus or subway
  • Subsidized shuttle services 

However, shuttles and taxi services are not cheap, volunteers and family members are not always available, and many suburbs don't offer buses or have subways.

rs1It is estimated that approximately 31% of seniors need alternative forms of transportation because, by the age of 75, many have lost the ability to drive. According to a 2015 Pew Research Group study, 27% of these seniors own smartphones. How can having a smartphone impact the senior transportation problem? Everything.

Enter "ride-sharing," a service that arranges one-time shared rides by GPS navigation, smartphones and social networking on short notice. Simply use Uber, Lyft, or the Google-expanded Waze to let a nearby ride-share driver know you need a ride. The closest available driver then comes to your GPS location, picks you up and takes you to the destination you entered in the app. The apps take care of everything from location input to payment.

Many hospitals are beginning to take advantage of this technology to help their patients. In some cases, the service may even be covered by Medicaid or other insurance plans. Not surprising, partnerships between ride-sharing companies and hospitals are now popping up throughout the medical services market.

Ride-sharing can help alleviate many of the problems seniors have finding alternative forms of transportation, including:

  • They no longer feel burdensome to their family members when asking for rides
  • They can get a direct ride to and from, rather than a bus or shuttle service, which makes many stops
  • Rides can be called at short notice for last-minute appointments instead of scheduling days in advance
  • Rides can be hailed from almost anywhere
  • Ride-sharing often costs less than a taxicab and seniors do not have to carry cash, because payment is made through the app

rs2Previously, the downsides to ride-sharing for seniors were a lack of wheelchair-friendly rides and familiarity of the apps. However, Uber has recently announced additions that challenge those problems. They now have a service called "Uber ASSIST" in many cities, a selection available when hailing the ride via Uber, which also allows users to ask for help getting in and out of the car and wheelchair accessibility, if necessary. There are also free classes for seniors who want to connect and learn how to use the apps, and even a pilot program that offers free rides for seniors who are selecting senior centers and retirement programs.

So how can you get involved? Engage with your patients! If they are having trouble getting to their appointments, show them the available apps and how to use them. If you are at a nursing center, you may be eligible for a pilot program or to have Uber come and host a free class. It is only when patients are able to get to their appointments that we can ensure they get the care they need.