The woman who once swore off the healthcare industry deftly navigated questions about her company’s zealous charge into the space.
At 20 years old, Lauren Steingold wanted nothing to do with healthcare. She completed an internship with the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Boston, and left aghast that their largest initiative in her time there was to get doctors to wash their hands more frequently. After a few years in advertising, she decided she wanted to work in a startup, and found herself in one of the biggest the world has ever seen.
And now that company, Uber, has a lot to do with healthcare.
As the company expanded, it began deploying more novel ideas, like on-demand ice cream and puppies. In 2014, it began to deliver a more serious service: Flu shots. Steingold, now the senior strategist for Uber Health, saw how successful the program was, and realized the company could do more.
“Those were exciting experiments, but we knew to impact more patient lives we’d have to do something on an ongoing basis,” she said. More than 3 million patients miss healthcare appointments each year due to inadequate transportation, resulting in $150 billion in healthcare losses.
Once healthcare-averse, Steingold found herself pushing the company towards the medical space. Some of her colleagues were resistant, but the company’s leadership saw the opportunity.
The genesis of that realization was Uber Health, launched in March. The service allows healthcare providers to order transportation for patients who might face difficulty getting a ride to their appointment. It’s important that the ordering be done by the provider because, she noted, the people who need the assistance typically aren’t smartphone-savvy.
Throughout her time on stage at the HLTH conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, today, Steingold fielded thoughtful questions with equally thoughtful responses. Asked how Uber Health would interact with the growth of telehealth services, she said that roughly 70% of telehealth appointments result in a prescription, meaning many of the same people who require remote physician visits will likely need assistance picking up their pharmaceuticals.
At one point, an audience member asked how Uber Health would safeguard against the spread of infectious diseases. The question sent a buzz through the crowd, but Steingold deftly stifled it: On 1 hand, the fact that rides would be physician-ordered would mean that caregivers would be responsible for knowing a patient’s infectious disease status.
On the other, she argued that Uber had a more in-depth means of detecting and halting disease spread than most other means of transportation. People might not know what standard taxi they rode in, but Uber creates a digital record of each ride, allowing the company to notify a driver and pull their car from the service upon notification that a traveler might have carried a serious infectious disease.
“There is no perfect situation, but this is better than existing solutions in place,” she said.
That moment spoke to the overall tenor of Steingold’s comments. When asked what her company’s role in healthcare was, her answer seemed to evoke that opening comment about doctors and handwashing: There's a lot of simple challenges in healthcare that need to be faced, and she thinks Uber can help. It wants to address pain points—many healthcare providers have tried to develop their own healthcare transport equivalents, but Uber has “pretty much nailed” the logistics of ridesharing this point.
“We’ll admit what we don’t know. We’re not trying to take over healthcare, we’re trying to provide a service,” she said.
Sri Madabushi, the business development director for health research at Google, was also on stage to discuss his company’s disruptive dreams. He smiled when asked the same question.
“She stole my answer,” he chuckled.