Soon patients may have no excuse to miss a doctor appointment.

IB_uber_art.jpgMedStar Health, which serves Maryland and Washington, D.C., recently teamed up with Uber, the popular transportation service, to provide patients with a reliable option to get to and from their medical appointments safely.

Since the partnership launched in January, a “Ride with Uber” link has been placed under "What's Trending Now" on the MedStarHealth.org website, providing patients with reliable door-to-door transportation to doctor appointments. They simply enter their pick-up location, the MedStart provider location and date of appointment. Another feature allows patients to set and receive automatic reminders an hour before their appointments, in addition to being able to know wait times and the approximate cost of the rides.

“There’s a large amount of excitement so far,” says Mike Ruiz, vice president and chief digital officer of MedStar. “We’re already receiving a lot of internal questions on how we can make this available to all patients and expand. We’re also receiving a lot of great external feedback.”

Transportation is noted as a determining factor by patients who miss appointments or have to reschedule at the last minute. A Community Transportation Association study found that 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical care because of transportation issues.

“I do see firsthand the patients who are challenged with transport,” says Dennis Pullin, president, MedStar Harbor Hospital and senior vice president of MedStar Health. “Many who need multiple treatments such as infusion or chemotherapy and can’t afford to miss an appointment.”

A large chunk of patients unable to make it to their appointments are low-income patients and can’t always afford transportation. MedStar is looking to improve access for this demographic through a pilot program that would provide subsidized rides to some of the health system's needier patients, according to Ruiz.

 “We’re on a strategic road map to provide our patients a seamless experience to our services and take some hassle out of health care,“ added Ruiz.

Uber's biggest rival, Lyft, also is getting involved in health care. Lyft recently partnered with the Health & Human Services to spread awareness about the Open Enrollment period. Lyft reached out to its freelance drivers in more than 190 cities to inform them about the health insurance marketplaces.

Similarly, the National MedTrans Network, which arranges nonemergency medical transportation for patients, partnered with Lyft on a test program in New York City that allows MedTrans operators to book a Lyft car for clients using a Web-based dashboard that Lyft designed.