The Uber Effect: How Ride-Sharing Affects Ambulance Calls


Apr 18, 2018


Many people hope they or a loved one never have to take a ride in the back of an ambulance. After all, the necessity of an emergency vehicle usually connotes a life-or-death situation. However, ambulances are still unfortunately common on our roadways. In fact, ambulances are used to transport more than 15 percent of all patients who seek emergency care.1 With such a large share of emergency transportation going to ambulances, what happens when a ride-sharing app like Uber or Lyft grows in popularity among the residents of a given city?

The Status Quo

Ambulances have been around since ancient times. Originally, they were used to transport those with incurable diseases or illness, but in the 1400s, the Spanish began utilizing the ambulance as an emergency transport vehicle. In the 1830s, civilian ambulances were introduced and grew in popularity until they permeated nearly every society in the world.
Today, ambulances are used to transport sick or wounded patients to the hospital for emergency medical treatments. In a study published by the National Institutes of Health, researchers examined a correlation between ambulance use and health insurance, finding that individuals with government-subsidized or no health insurance were more likely to call an ambulance for an emergency than those with privately-held health insurance.1

Unfortunately, this also means those who are more likely to be impoverished are also saddled with the extremely high costs of ambulance rides. Typically, ambulances in the United States cost thousands of dollars on top of the cost of your hospital visit. Many people have begun turning to a new mode of transportation in non-life-threatening situations to avoid these fees while still obtaining a ride to the hospital.

Enter: Uber

In 2009, the transportation industry was forever changed. Uber, a peer-to-peer ride-sharing company, quickly grew in popularity, rivaling the taxi industry. This service allows private citizens to use their smartphone to request a ride to any location and pay the fare automatically from their bank account or credit card, which is linked to their Uber account. Due to the low cost of Uber rides compared to taxi fares, its popularity has boomed in the United States.

Despite its usefulness as a designated driver on-demand or ride to and from the airport, people have discovered that Uber can be equally beneficial as an alternative to an ambulance ride to the hospital. Their low fares and near-constant availability make them a perfect mode of transport when patients suffer pain, severe illness or other ailments that may not require the medical attention of an EMT and can survive a slightly slower trip to the hospital.

Many people struggle to drive themselves when ill, don’t have a car or simply cannot afford the astronomical prices of an ambulance ride. A recent study regarding the impact of Uber on a region’s ambulance call volume has revealed surprising insight into how much users value the ride-sharing app.

This economic study out of the University of Kansas is the first of its kind to analyze how Uber has changed the number of ambulance calls. The researchers studied the ambulance call rates of 766 United States cities from 43 states and how they changed after Uber’s introduction to a given city. The results show a decrease in the number of ambulance calls to the tune of seven percent on average so far.2

This decrease is not only great for patients and Uber; it’s also good news for ambulances as well! With fewer people calling an ambulance due to lack of a vehicle and more people avoiding ambulances because they do not require truly urgent medical assistance, there are more ambulances available for those who are in need of immediate medical attention.

With the continued growth of Uber, some experts believe its use as a medical transport alternative will increase even more. Dr. Moskatel, one of the authors of the above study, estimates the rate of ambulance calls will decrease further to 10 or 15 percent.3

Emergency Room Care in Texas and Colorado Springs

The prevalence of accessible, non-emergency transportation has certainly begun to change the landscape of the medical industry as well as the transportation industry, further cementing the idea that private companies can help take the pressure off public utilities. Emergency rooms in particular, are in dire need of a service that can free up more space in the waiting room and decrease waiting times for those that truly need it. Luckily, Texans and Colorado Springs residents can enjoy these benefits thanks to Complete Care. We offer fast, attentive medical care for ailments ranging from wounds to strokes. Contact us online to find the Complete Care nearest you today!