Uber comes to the rescue of Federal Way’s elderly

Iora Primary Care of Federal Way is restoring the humanity of health care one Uber ride at a time.

The car service company partnered with Iora Primary Care, a branch of Humana, to provide transportation for elderly patients who have challenges in acquiring help from the health provider.

The goal of incorporating the transportation service with Iora is, in part, to make patients feel like they are a part of their own health care team.

Lisa Barrow, the clinical team manager of the Federal Way location, said adding Uber to the customer service element is an added bonus for the company’s vision of patient inclusion.

“It allows our patient to be a part of their care team,” she said. “They get to see what we write in our notes when they’re here. This is just another step in them having a full say in how their care goes.”

Uber came up with the idea after receiving feedback that patients, 65 and older, were having trouble accessing medical services due to various limitations.

Iora began a trial run of its partnership with Uber during June in Arizona, and it was an instant success. When the health care provider opened in Federal Way in October, the location offered the service immediately.

Not just any Iora patient can use Uber, though. The program is very specific.

The car service is reserved for established patients who have medical or cognitive barriers such as dementia, or those who cannot drive and don’t have family to help. The patient also must show proof of financial hardship, or why they are unable to get to and from their appointments.

For patients, who may be just outside qualification range for the Uber service, Iora Health Coach McKenzie Golden said she works with all patients who don’t qualify to find a way to make their appointments.

“We help them find things like senior services,” Golden said. “Like the volunteer taxi service for seniors, or the Hyde Shuttle. For those who don’t qualify for the Uber service. Those are things we can help them access. Uber is reserved for those with major barriers.”

A patient’s physician determines if they are eligible to use the service. Golden said a common experience for the health care provider is patients struggling to make scheduled appointments on time because they had to wait for a son or daughter to get off work to bring them in.

Aside from the tangible benefits of Uber, Barrow said the use of the service has created a sense of mental wellness within the city’s elderly community.

Patients don’t have to worry about getting frustrated about not being able to see the office from the street or may have taken a wrong turn.

It gives those experiencing financial hardships the opportunity to share in human interaction.

Golden said it’s not uncommon for patients to come in for their appointment and are beaming with excitement because their Uber driver offered them coffee or a bottle of water for the ride.

“Having somebody come straight to your door, pick you up, get here in plenty of time, even offer you coffee or water for the ride,” Golden said. “Just being able to chat with the driver. We’ve noticed how these tiny gestures really change moods, attitudes for the better.”

Golden said the small gesture from Uber drivers is transforming lives.

Before coming to the Federal Way location, Golden worked in the Renton office.

She worked with a patient who admitted to not visiting a doctor’s office for 30 years. He called Golden one day stating it had been five days since losing feeling in his right foot.

Golden said through her previous conversations with this patient, she knew he struggled to earn a living and did not have his own means of transportation.

“We were able to get him an Uber and get him to the clinic urgently,” she said. “The doctor was able to assess him and there was a worry that because this had gone on so long that the patient might need to undergo an amputation.”

It turns out Golden’s patient needed to undergo immediate emergency surgery.

Once again, Golden called on Uber to get her patient to surgery. She said she called on Uber because she knew an ambulance would cost him upwards of $350.

“That for me was a really defining moment,” Golden said. “Uber just worked so well and seamlessly. The patient got the care they needed and got to keep his leg. It was like an all around victory.”

Just last week the Federal Way location saw firsthand the impact the car service is having on its patients.

A patient, who has to make regular visits to the clinic, and happens to be confined to a wheelchair, discovered Uber for the first time as it brought her from her home to the clinic.

Barrow said she was so positively affected by the experience, she just had to tell everyone else in the clinic how Uber changed her life.

“She was like: ‘They even provide a car service for you’,” Barrow said. “They got into this deep conversation, we were completely forgotten, but she had such good things to say. It’s nice to hear that we’re having that sort of impact.”

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