Uber is best known as a digital taxi service which brings together drivers willing to transport people with those who want to go somewhere, connecting them through its app. Not exactly a company one could imagine going into the healthcare business, right?
Well, at least for one day, you'd be wrong. In late October, Uber mounted a surgical strike into the healthcare business, using its transportation capacity to deliver a healthcare solution to its customers over the course of a single day.
On October 23, Uber users got an unexpected email from the company, headlined "UberHEALTH: Flu Prevention On-Demand." The car service, working with partner Vaccine Finder, announced that it was making flu shots and flu prevention packs available to its customers between 10am and 3pm that day— at no charge to the customer.
To get the flu prevention pack or shot, all users had to do was choose the UberHEALTH option in the app. If they did that during the specified time period, users could expect an Uber SUV to arrive at their location bearing a flu prevention pack.
And it wasn't just about delivering prevention packs. If people at the user's location needed flu shots, up to 10 shots would be administered by a registered nurse from Passport Health. Adding to the fun, the coup de grace was that Uber promised to donate five dollars to the Red Cross for every shot given.
While the UberHEALTH pilot only ran in Boston, DC and New York, Uber has a presence in 200 cities, and it's hard to imagine that Uber won't experiment with healthcare services in other markets.
On the other hand, according to one blog, Uber's experiment didn't go so well. Staffers at BostInno, a city blog covering Boston neighborhood stuff, said they tried to summon UberHEALTH over and over again, starting at 10 AM sharp, but never managed to get the flu service.
In fact, if you take commentary on Reddit seriously, it may be that Uber was running only one car for the entire Boston Metro, which could easily be seen as a publicity stunt rather than a true public health outreach effort.
DC consumers didn't seem to do much better. While the deal was supposed to be advertised via a 9 AM e-mail, Forbes writer Dan Diamond reported that he didn't get the message until 1 PM. During the remaining two hours, Diamond tried repeatedly to order but didn't succeed.
Bottom line, while Uber's experiment is interesting, its service is a much more appropriate channel for delivery of other items, such as, say, groceries, snack foods or other retail items. While you can't count on Americans take care of their health, few companies lose by overestimating our laziness.
Anne Zieger is a veteran journalist who’s been covering the U.S. healthcare scene for over 25 years. She provides “News with a Twist,” combining solid reporting with expert insights and analysis. Her opinions are her own. You can follow Anne on Twitter @annezieger.