D.C. could go to Uber to relieve strain on emergency vehicles

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Officials in Washington D.C. are investigating methods to offload strain on its emergency medical vehicles, and one such option involves hailing an Uber.

The D.C. Fire and EMS department is handling an unsustainable number of 911 calls — D.C. dispatched more than 160,000 responses to 911 calls for EMS in 2015, NBC Washington reports, and is looking into outsourcing some of its lower priority calls to Uber, rather than an ambulance.

An increased demand has caused D.C. FEMS Chief Gregory Dean to work with the health department to “find other ways to transport people, such as using a contract taxi cab or Uber. We are trying to find creative ways to try to reduce the strain on the system,” he told NBC last week.  

The Uber-powered system wouldn’t actually require those with an emergency to download the app, sign up and request a ride. D.C.’s 911 call center would simply add nurses to its staff to “evaluate medical needs and using vehicles other than ambulances to transport people who need to go to a doctor’s office — but not to an emergency room,” NBC reported.

While no plans are set in stone, a task force created by Dean will form recommendations by October to potentially implement a system in 2017.

Minqi Jiang, a product designer at Tradeshift, might have been on to something last year when he reported on Medium that in New York City, “the median response time for an ambulance is 6.1 minutes. The median wait time for an Uber is 2.42 minutes in Manhattan, and 3.1 minutes in the outer boroughs.”

While a system infused with Ubers or other ride-sharing type vehicles could increase response times for those who need to get to the doctor’s office quickly, TechCrunch’s John Mannes argued that the concept of “Uber for 911 transport is a horrible idea.”

Mannes wrote that the potential for a nurse at the 911 call center to misjudge an emergency situation and send an Uber to pick someone up when they actually need an ambulance is high, and thus not worth the risk.

But the strain on the department’s resources is also high, D.C. FEMS officials argue; engine 30 alone handled more than 7,600 calls last year, coming out to 20 calls per day, NBC reported.

“They’re hoppin’ and they’re hoppin’ all day long, every day,” Dean told NBC.

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