What the adoption of self-driving vehicles might mean for the future of healthcare

Starting this month, residents in the Phoenix region can expect to see more driverless vehicles roaming the roads. Waymo, a subsidiary of Google, will use an app similar to Lyft’s to test out ride-hailing pilots — one to provide rides to employees of a local transit authority and another to transport residents in the region who have traditionally been underserved by public transit.

Another company, Driver.ai, has just embarked on a free-for-passengers 6-month pilot program in the Dallas Suburb of Frisco TX, to provide driverless vehicle rides in select pick-up and drop-off locations. Their self-driving cars are hard to miss — painted in bright orange with four external screens that communicate the intended actions of the vehicles to pedestrians and other drivers on the road.

We expect driverless car services will continue to be hard to miss across the country — and the need is real.  We are particularly excited about applications of driverless technology to the healthcare space. Here are a few benefits to the healthcare industry we anticipate in the not-so-distant future:

Fewer accidents --

Every year, nearly 3 million people visit a U.S. emergency room due to motor vehicle crash injuries  — 94% of which are due to human error — resulting in nearly $20 Billion in lifetime medical costs Driverless cars remove the possibility of human error, producing fewer crashes and less demand for trauma and rehabilitation services.  In fact, studies show that driverless car technology could eliminate hospital stays (and the associated costs) for hundreds of thousands of patients.

More aging at home —

Driverless technology could have the power to keep elderly individuals independent for a longer portion of their lives.. By 2060, the number of people aged 65 or older will more than double — increasing from 46 million to a projected 98 million people. That will mean that nearly 1 in 4 Americans will be 65 or older.  For those who’ve given up driving, driverless technology could help seniors go to the grocery store, travel to community events and of course, help them get to and from crucial medical appointments. To be done right, however, driverless technology must be able to identify when an individual needs extra services and provide the right type of vehicle based on his or her physical needs.

More efficient patient intake

Better patient flow may be a direct benefit from driverless, ride-hailing technology. Companies like Ford are exploring installing biometric sensors to proactively measure a patient’s vitals. This data could be passed to clinicians at medical centers, emergency rooms, urgent care centers, etc in order to reduce triage time and adequately prepare for the patient’s arrival. Even more simply, patients may be able to use their time in the car to fill out intake forms, which could help reduce or even eliminate waiting times for patients.

Over the next decade, we are excited to see how the application of both ride-sharing and driverless technologies can be used to solve real healthcare challenges. The ideas above are within our tangible reach — now we just need companies, institutions and entrepreneurs to champion them and bring them to market.

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