A Boston-based startup wants to help get people to their doctor appointments through a partnership with Uber.
An estimated 3.6 million Americans, including almost one million children, miss medical appointments every year because of transportation issues, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
These aren't emergency visits, but this pattern can have damaging repercussions for patients, such as a greater risk of complications and a possible future hospital admission, said Dr. John Brownstein, research faculty at Boston Children's Hospital.
Brownstein, who also serves as a healthcare advisor to Uber, co-founded Circulation to help solve this problem while also providing hospitals with more effective transportation options at a lower cost.
"Circulation is essentially a very novel platform that connects hospital information systems with Uber," he said. "We're trying to bring a new gear into the system—modern, on demand, lower cost transportation options to move patients around."
Brownstein said that hospitals spend billions of dollars transporting patients, whether through transportation brokers or taxi cab vouchers, and yet so many are still missing their appointments. It's important to offer some sort of transportation though, since not all patients are able to own a car or secure their own rides.
"The way consumers have experienced the luxury of on-demand rides is what we're trying to bring to patients," Brownstein said. "Especially patients who do not already use Uber, like low-income, elderly and disabled. Those that could most benefit from having their transportation covered and are at the greatest risk of complications if they miss their appointment."
To patients who may seem unsure about getting in an Uber, Brownstein said that this partnership ensures more accountability and tracking than usual hospital-made arrangements. Taxi cab vouchers are more expensive, filled out manually and have less tracking or accountability options.
Through Circulation, hospital staff can schedule rides for patients, even far in advance of an appointment and on a reoccurring schedule. Hospitals will have access to a dashboard that tracks the rides and shows contact info and health records kept updated from the hospital's system. Circulation also ensures the privacy of patients and their health information.
Patients aren't required to have a smartphone in order to take advantage of the app. The hospital itself does all the coordinating, Brownstein said, and an individual only needs a contact number so they can get a call when their ride is ready.
The service launched hospital pilots at three locations on Tuesday: Boston Children’s Hospital, Mercy Health System's three acute-care hospitals in Pennsylvania and Nemours Children’s Health System in Wilmington, Delaware. Brownstein said the company is looking to launch in more hospitals this coming year and beyond.
“There’s already much stress and anxiety on the part of families whose young children need regular medical care,” said Dr. Michael Docktor, pediatric gastroenterologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, in a statement. “With Circulation, we can alleviate the added headaches that come along with traffic and parking challenges in a busy city such as Boston and ensure that parents can focus on their children – not the ride to the hospital.”