Transportation barriers result in missed or delayed medical appointments for more than 3.5 million Americans, according to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. Those missed appointments can turn into bigger problems down the road for patients who don’t treat medical issues, resulting in needless, expensive visits to the emergency room. BCBSA plans to do something about making sure its members don’t miss medical appointments. The association announced a relationship with ride-sharing company Lyft in which the two companies will provide no-cost rides to doctors’ offices for certain BCBSA members.

In the announcement, BCBSA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Trent Haywood said, “Many Americans live in areas where medical care is beyond the reach of walking, biking or public transportation. As a result, they struggle to access critical health care services, even when they have health insurance. We are committed to addressing issues like transportation that are inextricably linked to health outcomes, yet can’t be tackled through health care resources alone.”

BCBSA figured out an approach for a ride-sharing solution after studying the behavior of 106 million members based on location data that reflects information such as members’ transportation needs, nutrition, and their environment. Mining its own customer data at a location level helped the organization understand which areas of the United States would benefit the most from a cost-free ride-sharing service.

As reported in Forbes, BCBSA will roll out the program later in 2017 at pilot locations. Eligible members will schedule rides either through their local Blue Cross plan or through their medical provider, either of which will be responsible for booking the appointment with Lyft. Alerts on users’ mobile phones will confirm their ride appointments.

This news resonates on many levels. A few aspects of the relationship stand out:

The Rise of On-Demand Healthcare

Lyft has been working with other companies to provide rides to medical appointments since January 2016. Lyft focused initially on senior citizens through a relationship with National Medtrans Network. In 2016, Lyft claimed that its service was fulfilling 2,500 weekly rides in New York alone, “providing dramatic reductions in wait times and missed physician appointments for patients, and increasing passenger satisfaction by 28%.”

And Lyft is not the only company figuring out how to either get patients to doctors more effectively or getting doctors to patients. Uber also provides ride sharing to medical appointments, and a number of services provide physicians on demand to patients. In August 2016, SIM Partners announced that our healthcare clients could use our Velocity Health platform to create “Ride There with Uber” functionality on their location pages.

The reasons for the “Uberization of healthcare” are many and complex. They include the proliferation of mobile devices, which make it easier for people to book rides; and the aging of our population, which creates a larger pool of patients who require assistance getting to a medical appointment.  

The Role of Location-Based Data

BCBSA, like many other businesses, is learning how to treat location-based data as a competitive asset. As noted, BCBSA needed to collect and analyze a variety of data about its customers, their behaviors, and locations. Making better use of data is an imperative especially for healthcare as the industry and its stakeholders grapple with rising costs and the impact of value-based compensation models. Only by becoming a data mining industry can healthcare transform itself. Moreover, the pressure to support better decision making with data will make artificial intelligence the real competitive weapon in healthcare.

Many other players in healthcare are forming alliances to make healthcare more relevant in an on-demand world. The turmoil that characterizes healthcare will continue to create opportunity. Contact us to discuss how to use location marketing more effectively for patient acquisition and retention.

Brian Westrick

Author Brian Westrick

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