Uber to the ER?
A disturbing trend or a viable option for emergencies? We look at who is using Uber for emergency transport and some of the reasons why they’re doing it.
Remember this blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice.
Why Not Take an Ambulance to the ER?
Let’s cut to the chase. The main reason people are taking UBER is because it’s really expensive to take an ambulance. Which begs the question… Why is it so expensive to take an ambulance? That’s where the issue gets muddy. Here’s some of the reasons why ambulance bills are so high.
- Did you know many ambulances are privately owned entities?
- People without insurance often don’t pay their ambulance bills, so they need to increase rates on the people who do pay in order to make up for it.
- Health insurance only pays after you meet your deductible.
- Ambulances use a ton of complicated equipment and are staffed by highly trained EMT’s
So is Uber the Answer?
Taking an Uber to the ER is like playing Russian Roulette. I don’t recommend it – I can’t recommend it. But I can see why it’s tempting. A two mile trip in an ambulance might cost $2700. The median income is only $32,000, so that’s more than a month’s salary for the average person. A little fender bender, a ride to the hospital, and suddenly you’ve lost a month’s salary. So, who picks Uber over the ER?
Who Picks Uber?
- People who aren’t having an emergency. According to this New York Times article, Dr. Anupam Jena recommends that people who aren’t having an emergency don’t call an ambulance. “Ambulances are for emergencies. If you’re not having one, it’s reasonable to consider another form of transportation.”
- People who simply can’t afford the bill. They say the average household can’t afford a $400 emergency bill. Forget paying a $2,700 one for a 2 mile trip. You might as well rent a nice limo.
- People who need non-emergency routine trips. Elderly patients and the chronically ill may need routine trips to the hospital. Unless it’s an emergency they often don’t elect to take an ambulance.
- People who want to make sure they get to THEIR hospital. An ambulance will take you to the closest hospital, not necessarily the hospital you want to go to. If you take an Uber you’ll go exactly to where you want to go.
How do Uber / LYFT / and other ride-share companies feel about this?
Officially they don’t like it. Slate.com has official statements from Uber and Lyft.
“When it comes to medical emergencies, Lyft should not be used as a substitute for emergency transportation. People should be calling 911,” wrote a Lyft spokesperson. Similarly, Uber commented, “Uber is not a substitute for law enforcement of medical professionals. In the event of any medical emergency, we always encourage people to call 911.”
Think about it, it puts the driver and the company both in positions of real liability. If something happened on the way to the hospital and the driver knew it was an emergency, how would it play out for them if things went bad?
The cost savings are tempting and sadly, for many, the bill for the ER visit alone might discourage many from seeking help. Ubering to the hospital might not be about being cheap, it might be just about having enough money to pay for the ER visit and this month’s rent. Still, in good conscious we can’t recommend it. It takes medical professionals years of training and experience, along with specialized testing to tell if something like a chest pain is an emergency or not. If something goes wrong in an Ambulance, they have special equipment and the ability to clear traffic to get to the hospital faster – something a ride-share can’t.
At the end of the day, this is your call, and here at Thrifty Patient we fully believe in giving you all the information you need to be an empowered patient.
What are your thoughts on using Uber, LYFT or another rideshare for trips to the Emergency Room? Would you do it yourself? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!