It all began with an invitation to join The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council for a technology conference in California.
That’s where Hackensack University Health Network CEO Robert C. Garrett first laid eyes on Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.
Garrett is credited with asking his team to reach out to Uber to see how the two organizations could partner and benefit the patients of Hackensack University Medical Center, the flagship hospital of the Hackensack University Health Network.
After a few months of exploration, they decided that providing transportation services for the patients after discharge, or for those who have no other method of reaching or leaving an appointment, was a good fit, according to Garrett’s chief of staff, Jose Lozano.
“When patients cancel at the last minute, more often than not it is because of transportation challenges,” Lozano said.
Late last fall, an Uber team visited the 3 million-square-foot HUMC campus, creating a GPS map with designated pickup zones for each of the many buildings.
Up until that mapping, taking an Uber to the hospital would have taken the patient to the main lobby at 30 Prospect St., Lozano said.
That wouldn’t be particularly helpful if you were scheduled for an appointment at the cancer center, women’s center or needed to reach the emergency department.
Of course, Hackensack saw Uber as more than just a means of transport, Lozano said. The hospital viewed it as a game-changer for the industry.
Lozano said Uber “could be a bridge” between an ambulance and public or private transportation, a means for someone who is not sick enough to need an ambulance, but not able to take public transportation or drive themselves.
The ability to be dropped off or picked up from a designated zone, which is clearly indicated by co-branded signage at the entrance, is a unique service provided by Uber that, other than Hackensack, only exists in New Jersey at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Outside the state, Uber has a similar program with MedStar Health, which has locations throughout Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Innovation at Hackensack, however, doesn’t stop with Uber.
The system recently announced it is partnering with Panasonic to find ways to deliver telehealth to older generations.
HackensackUMC’s new CEO, Dr. Ihor Sawczuk, said the partnership is focused on delivering health care in a way an older generation can understand.
“We are working with Panasonic to try to get to the population that may not be savvy with handheld devices, but they are more comfortable with television sets,” he said.
“I don’t know how to use my cell phone to its maximum potential, but I certainly know how to turn my TV on.”
The concept will be similar to digital streaming microconsoles, such as Amazon Fire TV, Roku and Apple TV.
Lozano said it will use a simple-function remote to control it. Additional details on the project are still under wraps.
Though the Uber project is relatively new, there is enough usage to see some trends from the data, Lozano said, with a side note that Uber does not provide user identities to the hospital.
Peak times currently appear to be pick-ups around 10 and 11 a.m., which is attributed to the average inpatient discharge times, Lozano said.
Drop-offs for outpatient procedures typically begin earlier in the morning, around 7 a.m., and a spike can be seen when they leave as well.
When asked what problems the program has faced thus far, Lozano replied none.
“We tried to anticipate with the signage and GPS, but any immediate issues we attempted to address,” he said.
This is just phase one of what Hackensack hopes to be a long-term relationship with Uber.
The two organizations already have identified potential areas to beta test, such as possible concierge service for ordering Ubers or asking and reminding patients about drop-off services when an appointment is scheduled through the Hackensack mobile app.
All of the ideas are still in the exploration phase, Lozano said.
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