When you find yourself in strife and need to visit hospital, who do you have on speed dial: triple zero or Uber?
While it may feel like an Uber is more accessible, and probably less expensive (if you don't have private health insurance or are not covered by a state ambulance scheme) there is the risk you’ll be DOA. At the same time, you might not want to waste the ambulance's time and resources if your mishap is only minor - which may be enough to make you want to 'tap' instead of 'dial'.
So, who are you gonna call when it comes to your next unexpected hospital visit?
Know your symptoms: When to call 000
Before you open your Uber app, we strongly recommend asking yourself four simple questions:
- Is the condition life-threatening?
- Could the person’s condition worsen and become life-threatening on the way to the hospital?
- Does the person require skills or equipment of paramedics or emergency medical technicians?
- Could distance or traffic cause a delay in getting the injured person to the hospital?
The American College of Emergency Physicians says if the answer to any of the above is 'yes' (or might become 'yes'), then skipping the Uber and calling an ambulance is your best bet.
Steve McGhie, Secretary of Ambulance Employees Australia – Victoria, agrees. "If someone is in doubt, we would encourage them to call 000," he says. The operator who picks up should be able to help you determine whether you need an ambulance or not.
There is also the government's health direct helpline and symptoms checker healthdirect , where trained staff give you advice and help you make an informed decision.
When things get serious, there's just no question – the ambulance reigns supreme, and that’s the way it should be.
The Uber alternative
So, can Uber ever be a good way to get to hospital? Maybe. Take the case of Circulation , a US-based start-up firm that uses technology linked to Uber to transport people to and from medical care. The service aims to solve a very real problem; each year in the US alone, 3.6 million patients miss at least one healthcare appointment due to lack of transportation.
We don't know whether the service will expand to Australia or even expand further in the States, but it’s an efficient, cost-effective way to transport people to scheduled medical appointments. This can save public and private health providers money and staff time. More importantly, it will help ordinary people with limited transportation options stay healthy by making sure they receive regular medical care.
But it's important to recognise the limitations of a service like Circulation and, while it's an interesting development in non-emergency medical transport, it is not – nor is it intended to be – a replacement for an ambulance.
When it comes to emergency situations, the training and equipment offered by the 'ambos' is second to none. Treatment is available immediately, saving time at a point when it can be a major factor in ensuring full recovery, or even survival.
And no matter how fast they travel, most injured or ill patients driven to the hospital in private cars have to wait till they arrive at the emergency doors before they get help.
The risks associated with distracted driving can also be a factor when travelling to the hospital by private car in an emergency. The Ambulance Service of NSW points out that, unlike trained emergency responders, ordinary civilian drivers may find the stress factor overwhelming, putting themselves and their passengers at risk.
Also, ambulance crews are in direct communication with the local emergency services network and can provide quicker access to a hospital, with no waiting room delays for crucial cases.
Playing it safe, but smart
So, while some 'Uber-like' services are popping up overseas, and the temptation may be there to call for an Uber instead of an ambulance, when it comes to an emergency trip to a hospital, ambulance transport has clear advantages over any alternative.
If you happen to be a resident of Queensland or Tasmania, the costs of an emergency ambulance trip to hospital are covered by your state government. For the rest, nib provides cover for emergency ambulance transportation by state and territory ambulance services in most circumstances.