Research Shows More People Choose to Call Uber Instead of Ambulances

More people in the US are likely to call an Uber than an ambulance to go to the hospital a new study has found.
Jessica Miley

New research suggests that Uber may reduce ambulance usage by as much as 7 percent. Two researchers examined ambulance use rates in 766 United States cities in 43 states as Uber began operating in them between 2013 and 2015. The team comprised of David Slusky, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Kansas and Dr. Leon Moskatel an internist at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego noticed that ambulance usage dipped after Uber began its service. While many may react with horror, thinking this statistic is just another example of how the US healthcare system is in decline. The researchers argue the statistic may actually be a good thing. They note that many people take an ambulance to the hospital, purely because they have no other way of getting there, but may not actually require the ambulance's services en route.

The authors of the study suggest that using a ride-sharing option gives the patient better control over the cost of their healthcare as well as the choice of the hospital they want to go to. Taking an ambulance can be very expensive if you don’t have the appropriate insurance, and most ambulance services will deliver patients to the closest hospital, not the hospital that the patient may choose to go to. Perhaps, more importantly, the researchers argue that by non-critical patients choosing to go to the hospital via a ride-sharing service frees up ambulances for critical patients who require en-route care.

Ride-sharing impacts personal car use

Slusky and Moskatel examined their data to look for evidence that may suggest Uber contributed to fewer medical emergencies through a reduction in drunk driving. They could find no hard evidence to support their theory but another study that examined this concept more specifically found that the impact of Uber on drunk driving varies from region to region.


Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft have hypothesized before that their services could spell the end for personal car ownership. While that seems unlikely for most, who use the services more as a taxi replacement, a new study presents evidence that they might be right. The collaborative study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, and Columbia University examined Austin, Texas, where ride-hail services were temporarily suspended last year as the big companies went head to head with local authorities. The researchers used this pause in operation to examine how the customers of these services filled the void. They found 41 percent of those surveyed turned to their own vehicle, 9 percent actually bought an additional car for this purpose, 3 percent switched to public transit and 42 percent switched to another smaller transportation networking company. Professor at UMTRI and lead author of the new study Robert Hampshire described the study’s outcomes: "Our findings show that these ride-sourcing companies do change behaviors. While this study isn't generalizable to the entire city of Austin, or to other cities, it provides crucial insights that are relevant to policymakers.” As Uber battles on to stay afloat in big cities like London, no doubt researchers will be carefully watching to monitor how consumers react.