In its first month of operation, the new Uber program that takes Mississippians to county health department appointments received 58 transportation requests.
Without a marketing plan for the initiative and just a month of data, it’s not clear how effective the program is yet at increasing health care access in Mississippi.
The Uber initiative is aimed at making it easier to get to county health departments where an increasing number of Mississippians may be seeking care. The ongoing health crisis has forced hospitals to stem services to stay open, making it harder to access care nearby.
Transportation can be a major barrier to receiving health care in rural Mississippi, resulting in “no shows” at county health department appointments. According to State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney, Mississippi county health departments currently experience a 50% no-show rate.
More than 1 in 5 people without transportation missed or skipped a medical appointment in 2022, and people of color and people with low incomes were more affected, one survey says.
However, the new program is only available in counties with Uber services, which many rural parts of the state don’t have.
The state Department of Health did not answer a question about which Mississippi counties have Uber services.
In November, the first month of the program’s operation, the requests came from 21 counties: Alcorn, Clarke, Copiah, DeSoto, Forrest, Grenada, Hinds, Jones, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lincoln, Madison, Noxubee, Oktibbeha, Pontotoc, Rankin, Tippah, Tishomingo, Walthall, Warren and Yazoo.
The state Department of Health’s one-year emergency contract with Uber says that the agency will pay Uber Health up to $1 million for non-emergency services transporting patients to their health department appointments, to a pharmacy if needed and then returning them home. It’ll all be scheduled by the health department through an internal dashboard, and the rider doesn’t have to pay.
All patients have to do is contact the health department’s call center, said Victor Sutton, the state Health Department’s chief of community health and clinical services, or ask about a ride when they schedule an appointment.
“The great thing about this program is MSDH patients will not need the Uber app,” he said via email. “The Health Equity Team will ensure that rides are scheduled, clients have received their notifications and reminders, and will round out the process with a follow up after the rides are completed.”
The program is being funded by a grant through state and federal programs to address COVID-19 health disparities.
Agency officials also say they hope the initiative creates jobs by bringing Uber to more parts of the state.
It’s not clear if that’s happened yet — an agency spokesperson said the state Health Department is still gathering data to “address gaps” and will soon create a marketing plan “to support driver availability within the program service area.”
Rideshare services have expanded to the health care market in recent years. However, some studies show that rideshare availability doesn’t have a significant impact on missed health care appointments.
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