MedStar ambulance service using Lyft for low-priority calls
It’s rare that Sharon Johnson misses church on Sunday mornings. But last Sunday was a painful exception.
“My whole face was swollen, and I needed to go to the hospital,” the 58-year-old from Fort Worth said.
A nasty toothache had her calling MedStar for help. But instead of sending an ambulance, they sent something else.
It was a Lyft driver who showed up at her door.
“No, I hadn’t heard of it,” Johnson said, chuckling. “First time.”
For years now, nurses like Betsy Acker have been helping MedStar callers like Johnson determine if their conditions really require an ambulance. If they didn’t, she’d call them a cab instead, paid for by MedStar, which would take them to urgent care or the doctor’s office.
“For example, patients with minor injuries or cold or flu, minor allergies,” Acker said, adding that a computerized program helps her determine patients’ symptom severity.
Sending cabs helped free up ambulances for more serious calls, and saved both MedStar and the patient time and money. But the customer feedback on the cab service wasn’t great. MedStar did what so many others are doing, and turned instead to the ride-hailing service Lyft.
“Lyft rose to the occasion,” MedStar spokesman Matt Zavadsky said.
Zavadsky said the contract with Lyft, which started in January, allows the nurse dispatcher to hail the ride, track the driver from start to finish and share information with both the driver and patient.
“They also have liability insurance umbrella that covers all of the drivers,” Zavadsky said. “So if the unthinkable happens, the driver’s involved in the crash or something happens, then there’s the protection we have — and the patient has — because there’s a really good insurance plan in place with Lyft.”
Zavadsky still urges patients to call 911, so MedStar can help them determine if they need an ambulance. He said you should not call Lyft or Uber on your own for a ride to the ER.
Even though Johnson had never heard of Lyft before, she said her Lyft trip to JPS Urgent Care was successful, and she’d do it again.
“He was very prompt and very courteous and very polite. He was okay,” she said.