Uber Availability Lowers Use of Ambulances

Per capita use down at least 7 percent.


Curtis Gregory Perry

Introducing Uber to a new market brings down the per capita use of ambulances by at least 7 percent, according to a new study conducted by an economist and a medical doctor.

David Slusky, an economist at the University of Kentucky, and Leon Moskatel, a physician at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, looked at ambulance use in more than 700 cities and 43 states that Uber entered between 2013 and 2015. The ride-sharing service, Slusky told phys.org, meant "lower health care spending while improving health outcomes."

"It's important to note that Uber is not a substitute for law enforcement or medical professionals," an Uber spokesperson said to the San Jose Mercury News. "In the event of any medical emergency, we always encourage people to call 911."

Moskatel, by contrast, told the newspaper that patients "tend to be pretty good at assessing their state and how quickly they need to come in and how sick they are."

Ride-sharing services increase consumer choice in a market—health care—where consumer choice is often absent. That in turn leads to lower costs, which means resources can be allocated more efficiently.

"Many patients don't need something that can break traffic laws and don't need something staffed by paramedics with a bunch of fancy equipment," Slusky told phys.org. "It's the same in the provider space: you don't need a neurosurgeon to diagnose strep throat."

While the working paper is the first systemic look at how Uber affects ambulance use, the trend of patients choosing ride-sharing services over ambulances has been noticed before. The health-oriented Stat News covered the trend in April.

"Ride-hailing services are cheaper and more predictable than ambulance services. And it allows riders to choose the hospital they're taken to," Stat News reported, though it added that the decision comes with "significant risks."

The government's one-size-fits-all approach to health care regulation reduces such options and raises prices. Innovations like ride-sharing can help change that, if vested interests don't stop them first.

Related: Watch Stossel on Eye Test Innovators vs. Bottle-Neckers in the healthcare industry:

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  1. Why do we focus so much in Uber versus Lyft?

    1. Nice try Lyft representative. Uber is the Xerox of ride sharing companies

      1. And Lyft is the Avis …

  2. Uber is a lot cheaper than an ambulance.

    It cost about $1000 to drive my wife 2 miles to the hospital in an ambulance.

    1. Yeah, and the paramedics who staff the vehicle probably make 15-20 an hour so…what is the rest of that cost one might ask?

      1. Depending on where you live, that’s a lot of the cost. Youve usually got 2 guys in the ambulance, 1 emt and 1 paramedic, so $35/hr plus bennies. Most EMTs in my town spend a lot of time waiting around with little to do. Gotta make up for it when someone needs the service.

        In bigger cities, I’ve no idea.

        1. Most EMT/paramedics in cities are unionized, so they are probably making at least $25-30/hr plus benefits, and this is where Uber operates mostly.

      2. Plus the cost of the vehicle, equipment, and maintenance as well as insurance… I doubt the ambulances in my area are highly profitable, even if it’s $1,000 per ride.

      3. An ambulance is $170K. A cardiac monitor is $30K. Patient care equipment and medications. Fixed costs of the building. Billing and admin clerks for the massive amounts of paperwork. Keeping a crew available 24/7. It ain’t cheap. Our unemployment insurance ratings are very costly.

        /Ambulance company VP

        1. A lot of people who have never owned a business don’t appreciate or consider overhead expenses that have to be amortized over what customers pay.

      4. Most of those costs are adding up even if the ambulance is parked; on a slow day, there may not even be one run, but you still have to pay for the personnel, the vehicle, the equipment, the infrastructure to house all of the above?something that many don’t take into consideration.

  3. I guess Pelosi has given up on Botox.

    “Archaeologists reconstruct face of ancient, 1,200-year-old queen”


  4. “It’s important to note that Uber is not a substitute for law enforcement or medical professionals,”

    Basically, if you need your dog or your sickly, possibly mentally-deranged relative put to sleep, don’t call ?ber.

  5. “Many patients don’t need something that can break traffic laws and don’t need something staffed by paramedics with a bunch of fancy equipment,” Slusky told phys.org.

    Yeah, and that’s because a lot of people who go to the E.R. don’t need to be there at all.

    1. They need to be there because it’s the only health care they have access to, they can’t be turned away.

      1. “Access” /= “can get for free”

      2. Or a lot of them have a head cold and could just go get Robitussin and call it a day. I worked in the healthcare industry for years and I became friends with numerous people from ER docs to VPs of Finance. Most of the people who come into ERs could just as easily have gone to a CVS gotten over the counter meds and been just fine.

        1. Been to emergency room many times because I’m a nice guy. I’ve never seen anyone there who “just head the flu”. Maybe a couple of anxious young parents with a sick baby who didn’t know how to judge how sick their baby was.

  6. Great, now ambulance drivers are going to jump on the anti-ridesharing bandwagon.

    1. Honestly, they would probably make as much or more driving for a rideshare service with a reduced level of bullshit they need to deal with. And yeah, Uber/Lyft drivers deal with a lot of bullshit.

  7. It’s nice that someone else also has an ebay watch on ambulances…

  8. Sometimes calling 911 for a health condition results in an ambulance and police showing up.

    Calling Uber prevents the latter. So how long until it become illegal to call Uber for a hospital ride?

    1. Does Pelosi read reason?

  9. My father had to go from a rehab hospital to a real hospital (all the same hospital name) a mile and a half away via ambulance. Just down the road and a right turn.

    The bill was $1600

    1. The bill was $1600

      Just wait until ?ber drivers *have* to drive anyone to the hospital who requests it regardless of any rush pricing in the neighborhood at the time… and have to submit their bills to a universal healthcare system to get paid.

      1. You can get an Uber sometimes within a minute or two, EMS must respond within 7 min, but often don’t. So I would be more inclined to take an Uber than call 911 if I thought I was having a heart attack. I can see though that this could open a liability can of worms once someone croaks in the back seat.

  10. I wonder how much of this has to do with Uber preventing accidents that would necessitate an ambulance, such as drunk driving, assaults, falls, etc.

    1. Would be interesting to see, but I guess most is choice.

  11. Bullshit.

    When it comes to healthcare choices, no one can shop around. This is known.

    1. If you’re having a heart attack you don’t call around of check Ebates for the cheapest heart surgeon.

      1. As usual the truth lies somewhere in the middle

    2. Actually, I’ve HAD to shop around; my previous policy covered my doctor, whose office is 12 miles away, but not the associated hospital, which is one mile away! That provider is leaving my state, so I got a new policy, which covers the hospital, but not the doctor! So you can shop around, but you can’t win.

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