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Live 5 Investigates: Choosing Uber over an ambulance to get to the ER

A growing number of people are turning to ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft instead of ambulances for trips to the ER. (Source: Live 5) A growing number of people are turning to ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft instead of ambulances for trips to the ER. (Source: Live 5)
A study revealed the main reason people might take a ride-hailing service to the ER is cost. (Source: Live 5) A study revealed the main reason people might take a ride-hailing service to the ER is cost. (Source: Live 5)
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) -

Picture this: you're in an emergency, you need to get to the hospital but you can't drive yourself there. The question is how are you going to get there?

The obvious answer used to be by taking a trip in an ambulance but not anymore. With the explosion of ride-hailing services, people are just tapping and clicking their way to the ER.

Bryan Charlot is both an Uber and Lyft driver and has been shuttling around both the Charleston and Columbia areas for more than a year and a half. During his time as a driver, he has also ended up dropping passengers off at the ER. One case, in particular, he vividly remembers. 

"I saw someone coming out of the house holding their face so she walked up to the car and Ii noticed she was bleeding.. and I thought it was domestic," Charlot says.

But he says the woman slipped and fell, putting a gash across her face. Charlot took the woman to the nearest hospital without hesitation.

"She had a little accident and got a little help aside from a flesh wound," he says.

In this case and in cases where the situation is not a major trauma, MUSC emergency physician and Emergency Department Director Dr. Gregory Hall says calling an Uber is a great option. 

"If I injured myself and it's minor and I don't think I need a friend or it's not serious enough for a trained professional to take me I can call an Uber and get down to the hospital fairly quickly," he says.

Hall says the trend of using ride-hailing to go to the emergency room instead of an ambulance seems to be catching on.

"There was a study last fall since Uber came about there has been a 7 percent drop in ambulance 911 calls, and instead they are calling Uber," he says. 

That study, authored by an economics professor at the University of Kansas and a doctor with Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, compared ambulance usage rates in 766 cities across the country before and after Uber was introduced.

The study revealed the number one reason for people taking an Uber  instead of an ambulance to the ER simply boils down to the cost, something Trident Health Systems EMS Coordinator Chris Esdorn understands. 

"An ambulance can be very expensive some ambulance bills I have seen can be $700," Esdorn says.

On the other hand, Hall says you get what you pay for and often an Uber driver is not going to be trained to deal with a major emergency.

"A trained paramedic can do life-saving therapies before you get to the hospital and inform us that they are on the way so we can be ready for you when you get to the hospital," Hall says.

Charlot says another upside to using a ride-hailing service to get to the hospital is that the apps are easy to use and drivers can quickly and accurately locate the person needing a ride.

"It's GPS-tracked and I come to you and you know when I'm there. And I come do your house and we go to the hospital," he says.

Both Hall and Esdorn say another plus to a ride-hailing service is that it frees up emergency services for someone who's in dire need, such as someone who may be having a heart attack, a stroke, an asthma attack, an accident victim or someone in any other major medical situation.

When you have 30 calls for non-emergencies and one call is a real emergency, we could have had the other 29 available for true emergencies," Esdorn says. "We have limited resources with paramedics and there's a lot more Uber drivers out there."

It's the efficiency of using all available resources including ride-hailing services Hall says can be a very helpful tool in the medical community.

Roper Healthcare spokesperson Andy Lyons says Roper has also seen a rise in patients using ride-hailing services to their Emergency Rooms and Express Care facilities. Lyons agrees that using Uber or Lyft for non-emergency needs frees up our area emergency services for urgent calls. He adds anyone experiencing a medical emergency is encouraged to dial 911 so they can get help as quickly as possible. 

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