What would an Uber-style service look like for the NHS?

Last week, transport company Uber announced its move into healthcare with Uber Health, a service designed to get patients where they need to be.

The service lets healthcare professionals order rides for patients, as well as caregivers and staff, and is already being used by over 100 healthcare facilities in the US.

Operating through a dashboard system, healthcare providers can arrange transport up to 30 days in advance, with a simple text message telling patients when and where their transport will pick them up.

The service is a great example of how big businesses are moving towards healthcare and offering ways to ease pressure for both patients and providers.

Unfortunately, the service is only available in the US but the NHS is a prime target for such an offering.

The past two winters have seen unparalleled pressure affect the NHS, with patients and staff bearing the brunt of the stretched services.

Stories of patients being left on trolleys and waiting for ambulances for unseen lengths of time were regular features in the media, highlighting the NHS’ struggles to cope with the pressure.

However, the UK may be closer than it seems to an Uber-like health service than originally thought.

In fact, Uber already operates as a healthcare transport service for one NHS Trust in London. Last year, the company teamed up with healthcare start-up Cera to provide faster patient care for those at Barts Health Trust.

The service enables carers to book transport for patients in wheelchairs or for those who are disabled. Cera’s service enables doctors to refer patients to carers by using the company’s matching service. Patients who are matched with carers receive assistance at home, potentially freeing up bed space at hospitals.

In primary care, a service described as the ‘uber for doctors’ was launched in Birmingham last year. GP Delivered Quick (GPDQ) is an on-demand app for GP visits and lets patients request a consultation for their home or when at work.

After requesting a doctor, a fully vetted UK-trained doctor will arrive with an average of 90 minutes, according to the company.

Dr Anshumen Bhagat, A North London GP behind the app spoke about the service: “GPDQ is digitising the home visit – it really is that simple. Patients benefit from speed and flexibility, with the ability to see a doctor when and where it suits them, booking and tracking their GP through their smartphone. Our 25 minute appointments allow for a more in depth consultation, whilst our 2 hour prescription delivery service provides an extra level of convenience.”

Whilst Uber-style transport systems should never be a replacement for ambulances, business models such as those referenced could help reduce burdens on emergency services.

Minor ailments which don’t require fast emergency attention could use a third-party transport system, potentially freeing up ambulances for patients requiring fast transport to the hospital.

Of course, with stretched funding for the NHS and a questionable future for Uber operating in London, it’s unlikely that we’ll see the NHS take up such a service. That said, the steadily increasing range of digital apps and services might lend themselves to patients’ benefits in the future.

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Reece Armstrong is a reporter for Digital Health Age. Coming from the North East of England, Reece has an MA in Media & Journalism and a BA in Popular & Contemporary Music from Newcastle University. Reach him on Twitter or email via: reece.armstrong@rapidnews.com

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