Earlier this month, Uber released its new program, Uber Health. In a nutshell, Uber Health is a program that facilitates patient transportation to and from appointments with healthcare providers. According to Uber, Uber Health works like this:
- A healthcare provider books a ride on demand or for future appoint, using the Uber Health dashboard.
- The passenger is contacted by text or call with their trip details at the time the ride is booked, and again when the driver is on the way to pick them up.
- The passenger is picked up and dropped off on schedule.
Why might this be a good idea? According to the Community Transportation Association, estimates nearly 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical care every year due to unreliable transportation. SCI Solutions, a healthcare consulting and IT firm, provides that missed appointments cost providers $150 billion every year. Uber Health seeks to cure this problem by providing easier access to patients through their healthcare providers. Uber had been beta testing this model since July of 2017, and so far, it has over 100 healthcare organizations signed up, including hospitals, blood centers, clinics, and social workers.
But are there healthcare regulatory issues that healthcare providers need to consider before signing up for Uber Health? Yes – HIPAA and the Anti-Kickback statute should be on the forefront of any Uber Health user. First, because Uber would be a Business Associate for purposes of HIPAA under this arrangement, it worked with Clearwater Compliance, a HIPAA compliance company, to create and implement safeguards. For example, Uber Health and Uber data are stored in separate servers, meaning that only select Uber employees and the healthcare providers have access to patient data. Accordingly, a breach in Uber’s servers should not compromise Uber Health’s data. Also, Uber Health drivers are not given any patient information, and rides are requested under “Uber Health,” not the patient’s name. Despite these safeguards, risks still remain (e.g., potential data breaches), so it becomes important to enter into a well-drafted Business Associate Agreement.
Second, Uber Health raises concerns regarding anti-kickback regulations. Because healthcare providers coordinate patient transportation through the Uber Health dashboard, providers need to be careful about offering free or discounted rides to patients which could trigger the federal anti-kickback law. For example, if a health care provider advertised free Uber rides as an inducement to grow its patient base, it could find themselves in hot water. Healthcare providers that decide to partner with Uber Health should review the guidelines that the OIG published in late 2016 here.