Would you take an Uber to the hospital? New study highlights positive and negative effect

Not recommended for major emergencies
Posted at 6:12 PM, Dec 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-18 18:16:50-05

It's changed the way Western New Yorkers get to the airport, to Bills games -- even to their favorite bars. 

But could ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft become a new way to get to the hospital?

“For people who aren't sick and need to get to the hospital, Uber could be a good alternative,” said Dr. Leon Moskatel of Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego. 

Moskatel co-authored a new study which found that whenever Uber entered a market, total ambulance volume would drop about 7 percent.

Some people are trying to avoid the bill, which can be as high as $1,000. Others use the emergency room as a doctor’s office and -- when their insurance covers it -- use an ambulance to get there.

“We've seen people come in with everything ranging from, 'I've had back pain for three months,' or 'I just need a refill on my medication,’” Moskatel said. “And an ambulance is just not warranted.”

Online message boards are filled with stories of people taking what they call the "Uber-lance" or the "ambu-Lyft"

But experts say those who try to tough it out by driving themselves or by taking an Uber to the hospital could be putting themselves at serious risk. 

“You can't do effective CPR in the front seat of a car, and you don't have access to advanced interventions like advanced airway procedures, cardiac medications, defibrillators, things of that sort,” said Thomas Maxiam, the regional manager of American Medical Response. 

Maxian oversees all of AMR’s ambulances in Buffalo, which, he points out, are a lot different than your average ride-sharing vehicle.

“We have now an emergency room on wheels,” Maxian said. “Everything that you could need in an ER and an acute coronary syndrome, we can provide in an ambulance. And the great thing is we can bring all of that stuff directly to wherever the patient is.”

For a toothache, a rash or a medication refill, Maxian says taking an Uber makes sense. 

But for more serious conditions like chest pains or shortness of breath, “those are times to absolutely call an ambulance,” Maxian said.