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Study: Is Uber Reducing the Use of Ambulances?

By: Ryan Gallagher January 8, 2018
Uber has reduced ambulance usage by up to 7% in America, a new study shows. The trend may pick up steam as the service becomes more ubiquitous, researchers say.

Uber has a variety of ride options. The service offers Uber Pool for a carpool-style rideshare, UberXL for large parties, and now Uber General for... sick patients? While the latter isn’t a real option provided by the ride-hailing service, many people in need of an ambulance are now turning to their Uber app instead.

For those who are sick and can’t drive, can’t afford an ambulance, or don’t know if an illness necessitates an ambulance, Uber may be the next best option. As a result, there has been a 7% drop in ambulance use nationwide, according to a new study.

Researchers obtained and analyzed ambulance usage data from 2013 to 2015 in 766 U.S. cities across 43 states. They then compared ambulance use volumes before and after Uber came to these cities. David Slusky, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Kansas, and Dr. Leon Moskatel, an internist at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, conducted the study.

“My guess is it will go up a little bit and stabilize at 10-15% as Uber continues to expand as an alternative for people,” Moskatel said.

Slusky and Moskatel identified multiple reasons why Uber has had this effect on the countrywide state of ambulance use.

“Many have now started to seek alternate, cheaper transport to the emergency room in the form of ride-sharing services such as Uber,” the study reads. “Furthermore, the introduction of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has slowed ambulance response times by 19%, exacerbating the need for a partial substitute to traditional ambulances.”

The financial burden an ambulance ride can present is one of the main driving factors behind this Uber trend. Different elements account for the total cost of an ambulance ride, which could run patients thousands of dollars in medical bills for a relatively short trip.

While the trend could drive down ambulance rates and other costs in the medical realm, Uber is not as keen on the study’s results as one might think.

“We’re grateful our service has helped people get to where they’re going when they need it the most,” said Uber Spokesman Andrew Hasbun. “However, it’s important to note that Uber is not a substitute for law enforcement or medical professionals. In the event of any medical emergency, we always encourage people to call 911.”

Though, some medical professionals cautiously maintain the decrease in ambulance use isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead, low-risk patients may have found a good second option when driving is not a possibility, said Paul Kivela, president of the 37,000-member American College of Emergency Physicians.

Kivela did qualify his statement, saying the option is only helpful for assuredly low-risk patients—not for those who have a serious medical issue or cannot differentiate between low- and high-risk medical needs.

“A paramedic has the training and the ability to deliver life-saving care en route. Where I really have a hard time is believing an Uber driver is going to attend to you.”

Moving forward, the researchers will submit their study to peer review in order for their findings to be criticized and validated.

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