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Uber Starts Offering Rides to Doctors

Uber will bill care providers who sign up for the service monthly based on their usage

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Uber. VOA
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Uber is driving deeper into healthcare by offering to take patients in every U.S. market where it operates to their next medical appointment.

The ride-hailing service said Thursday its Uber Health business will handle rides set up by doctor’s offices or other healthcare providers and then bill that business, not the patient, for the service. The company said rides can be set up within a few hours or days in advance. Patients won’t need access to a smartphone to use the service.

ALSO READ: Worried About Storage Issues? Now Easily Book Uber from Laptop and Tablets

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Uber began testing the service last summer. More than 100 health care providers have signed up including hospitals, clinics, and physical therapy centers. Pixabay

Company leaders said they are expanding because there’s a need. They cite federal government research that estimates that more than 3 million people do not obtain medical care due to transportation problems.

“There are a lot of people out there who are not going to the doctor simply because they can’t physically make it there,” said Uber Health executive Jay Holley.

He added that the service also represents a business opportunity for Uber by connecting the company with a lot of first-time users.

Uber will bill care providers who sign up for the service monthly based on their usage. Holley said some may pass the cost on to their customers, but most of the providers it has worked with so far pay for the rides out of their operating budget.

ALSO READ: Driverless Car: Popular App-based cab Uber gives us a look of what Future Holds!

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Health insurers and others have long recognized the need to help some patients, especially those with low incomes, make their medical appointments. Pexels

Uber rival Lyft offers a similar service called Concierge, which allows healthcare providers to set up rides for patients to get to appointments. The providers pay for the rides. Lyft also has patient transport partnerships with larger healthcare providers.

Molina Healthcare Inc. has offered a transportation benefit to its customers for around 25 years and says that more than 3 million people are eligible. Molina specializes in administering the state- and federally funded Medicaid programs for poor people and the disabled.

Spokeswoman Laura Murray said the insurer found that covering transportation expenses helps patients keep regular appointments and preventive care visits, which can include things like flu shots or checkups. She said that can improve patient health and cut down on unnecessary emergency room visits.

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“Uber is already where the patient lives,”

ALSO READ: Uber suspends its self-driving cars from Roads after crash in US

Adams Clinical runs clinical trials for drug companies and started using Uber Health in the middle of last year. Since then, trial participation has grown and patients have started staying in the studies longer, CEO Nelson Rutrick said.

The Watertown, Massachusetts, company had used taxis before switching to Uber. Rutrick said taxis were more expensive and required advance planning to get a cab to drive an hour or two to pick someone up.

“Uber is already where the patient lives,” he said. (VOA)

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Hospitals Worldwide Detain Patients If They Cant Pay The Bill

Earlier this month, the High Court ruled again that imprisoning patients “is not one of the acceptable avenues [for hospitals] to recover debt.

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Margaret Oliele, a former detained patient, poses for a portrait in her home in Nairobi, Kenya. VOA

Doctors at Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital have told Robert Wanyonyi there’s nothing more they can do for him. Yet more than a year after he first arrived, shot and paralyzed in a robbery, the ex-shopkeeper remains trapped in the hospital.

Because Wanyonyi cannot pay his bill of nearly 4 million Kenyan shillings ($39,570), administrators are refusing to let him leave his fourth-floor bed.

At Kenyatta National Hospital and at an astonishing number of hospitals around the world, if you don’t pay up, you don’t go home.

The hospitals often illegally detain patients long after they should be medically discharged, using armed guards, locked doors and even chains to hold those who have not settled their accounts. Even death does not guarantee release: Kenyan hospitals and morgues are holding hundreds of bodies until families can pay their loved ones’ bills, government officials say.

An Associated Press investigation has found evidence of hospital imprisonments in more than 30 countries worldwide, according to hospital records, patient lists and interviews with dozens of doctors, nurses, health academics, patients and administrators. The detentions were found in countries including the Philippines, India, China, Thailand, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Bolivia and Iran. Of more than 20 hospitals visited by the AP in Congo, only one did not detain patients.

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A relative adjusts the oxygen mask of a tuberculosis patient at a TB hospital on World Tuberculosis Day in Hyderabad, India. VOA

Millions possibly affected

“What’s striking about this issue is that the more we look for this, the more we find it,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “It’s probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people that this affects worldwide.”

During several August visits to Kenyatta National Hospital — a major medical institution designated a Center of Excellence by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the AP witnessed armed guards in military fatigues standing watch over patients. Detainees slept on bedsheets on the floor in cordoned-off rooms. Guards prevented one worried father from seeing his detained toddler.

Kenya’s ministry of health and Kenyatta canceled several scheduled interviews with the AP and declined to respond to repeated requests for comment.

Health experts decry hospital imprisonment as a human rights violation. Yet the United Nations, U.S. and international health agencies, donors and charities have all remained silent while pumping billions of dollars into these countries to support their splintered health systems or to fight outbreaks of diseases including AIDS and malaria.

“People know patients are being held prisoner, but they probably think they have bigger battles in public health to fight, so they just have to let this go,” said Sophie Harman, a global health expert at Queen Mary University of London.

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Detained patients lie on beds in the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. VOA

Hospitals often acknowledge detaining patients isn’t profitable, but many say it can sometimes result in a partial payment and serves as a deterrent.

‘A way to conduct business’

Festus Njuguna, an oncologist at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, about 300 kilometers northwest of Nairobi, said the institution regularly detains children with cancer who have finished their treatment, but whose parents cannot pay.

“It’s not a very good feeling for the doctors and nurses who have treated these patients, to see them kept like this,” Njuguna said.

Still, many officials openly defend the practice.

“We can’t just let people leave if they don’t pay,” said Leedy Nyembo-Mugalu, administrator of Congo’s Katuba Reference Hospital. He said holding patients wasn’t an issue of human rights, but simply a way to conduct business: “No one ever comes back to pay their bill a month or two later.”

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FILE – A Yemeni woman suspected of being infected with cholera receives treatment at a hospital in the capital Sanaa. VOA

Global health agencies and companies that operate where patients are held hostage often have very little to say about it.

The CDC provides about $1.5 million every year to Kenyatta National Hospital and Pumwani Maternity Hospital, helping to cover treatment costs for patients with HIV and tuberculosis, among other programs. The CDC declined to comment on whether it was aware that patients were regularly detained at the two hospitals or if it condones the practice.

Dr. Agnes Soucat of the World Health Organization said it does not support patient detentions, but has been unable to document where it happens. And while the WHO has issued hundreds of health recommendations on issues from AIDS to Zika virus, the agency has never published any guidance advising countries not to imprison people in their hospitals.

‘Cruel, inhuman and degrading’

Many Kenyan human rights advocates lament that hospitals continue to hold patients despite what was seen as a landmark judgment in 2015.

Back then, the High Court ruled that the detention of two women at Pumwani who couldn’t pay their delivery fees — Maimuna Omuya and Margaret Oliele — was “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” Omuya and her newborn were held for almost a month next to a flooded toilet while Oliele was handcuffed to her bed after trying to escape.

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A doctor gestures outside a hospital in the Algerian town of Boufarik, as the country faces a cholera outbreak. VOA

Earlier this month, the High Court ruled again that imprisoning patients “is not one of the acceptable avenues [for hospitals] to recover debt.”

Omuya said she is still psychologically scarred by her detention at Pumwani, especially after another recent run-in with a Nairobi hospital.

Also Read: Kenya’s First Breast Milk Bank to Combat Newborn Mortality

Several months ago, her youngest brother was treated for a suspected poisoning. When Omuya and her family were unable to pay the bill, the situation took a familiar but unwelcome turn: he was imprisoned. Her brother was only freed after his doctor intervened.

“Detentions still go on because there are no rights here,” Omuya said. “What I suffered, I want no one else to suffer.” (VOA)