Uber as an Ambulance Alternative: Is it Safe?
You may think that calling a ride-share service such as Uber instead of an ambulance is foolhardy. When you are sick or injured, shouldn’t you call instead for an ambulance that is staffed with experienced emergency drivers and paramedics? You may be surprised to learn that calling an Uber may be the wiser choice in some medical situations. While that may seem counter-intuitive, the reality is that ambulance rides are not a practical choice for many Americans. Sometimes an Uber is the answer.
For those with insurance, the cost of a medically necessary ambulance ride can be as low as a $15 – $100 copay. However, some ambulance companies may not have a contract with your insurance company, so they will bill you any remaining balance between what they charge and what your insurance company will pay. This bill may arrive weeks or even months later and be for hundreds of dollars.
You should be clear on what your health insurance covers before an ambulance situation arises. Find out now what your policy covers. Does it only pay for an ambulance in true emergencies? How high will your copay and co-insurance payments be? What ambulance companies contract with your insurance? When you know these answers, you will have an easier time making a decision about whom to call for a ride.
If you do not have insurance, an ambulance ride may cost over $1000, even if you are only traveling a few miles. In contrast, an Uber ride will usually cost you only a dollar or two per mile. When it comes to cost considerations, taking a ride share to the hospital makes sense.
When you call an ambulance, you have the expectation that it will arrive promptly, usually in a few minutes at most. Sadly, the nationwide statistics show otherwise. The average response time for an ambulance is 15 minutes and 19.2 seconds. The average response time for an Uber is only 5 minutes.
Of course, these times vary depending on where you are, and Uber isn’t an option for some people in rural areas. Some states, such as Illinois, have a response time nearly as low as an Uber’s. However, in some large cities, your Uber may well arrive and have you at the hospital before the ambulance pulls up to your driveway.
No matter what the cost, a true emergency situation usually requires an ambulance. A gunshot victim, for instance, needs the expert medical care that the ambulance crew can provide. If someone is unconscious or has taken a severe fall, an ambulance ride is the only safe option.
Many people take an ambulance when the situation is not an emergency. Many trips to the ER are necessary but not in response to a life-threatening condition. You might suddenly have a severe gall bladder attack or be afflicted with kidney stones. Some patients do not have anyone to drive them to the hospital, and they certainly cannot drive themselves. In those type of situations, calling an Uber makes financial and medical sense.
Many women in labor can safely take an Uber to the hospital, much as they have taken taxis in the past. Most births are not emergency situations. If a woman is experiencing bleeding or other unusual symptoms during labor, they should call an ambulance.
Some Uber drivers may not be comfortable with transporting sick people to the hospital. They may worry about your health as well as their own liability in the situation. Even those drivers who have no issue with transporting non-emergency patients will probably draw the line at serious illness and injury. Understandably, many drivers won’t willingly transport anyone who is bleeding or vomiting as these patients can be a risk to their own health as well as to the condition of their vehicles. Others will happily drive anyone who is able to get in and out of their vehicle on their own.
To avoid problems with an Uber driver, explain your situation upfront and let them decide based on the facts. The driver may not balk at your pinched nerve or broken ankle.
Your doctor should be able to tell you when an ambulance is necessary. The next time you have an appointment, take a few minutes to discuss the issue with them. They can give you advice while taking your particular medical needs into consideration. If you do call an ambulance for a non-emergency situation, ask about your cost before they send the vehicle. Obviously, if you have a life-threatening injury, you can’t afford to chat about your financial obligations. In less pressing medical situations, ask so you will not be surprised later by a huge bill.
So the answer to “Is an Uber a safe ambulance alternative?” is “Sometimes.” If you need a non-emergency ride to the hospital and don’t have a friend to take you, call an Uber. Most drivers won’t hesitate to transport you as long as you are not bleeding everywhere. In most emergency situations, you should call an ambulance. It may take longer to arrive, but expert medical help and equipment will be on board. Those factors can save your life.