Guest Column | November 8, 2016

5 Ways Autonomous Vehicles Are Disrupting Healthcare

Jim Walker

By Jim Walker, Director of Marketing Strategy, Cadient

With Uber rolling out its self-driving cars on the streets in Pittsburgh, PA; Tesla drivers logging more than a million miles a day of autonomous driving; and Ford sharing plans to manufacture autonomous ride sharing vehicles by 2021, the driverless car is becoming a reality. Uber’s move represents the latest salvo in a rapidly evolving “transportation cloud,” in which our culture of ubiquitous car ownership is about to be disrupted. The autonomous car, long the province of science fiction movies, is now moving forward at an accelerated pace.

Many industries are going to feel the impact of these changes — especially healthcare. Uber-like autonomous driving services are poised to radically disrupt the healthcare market, and in ways you might not have considered.

Autonomous Aging
For an increasingly aging population, hands-free autonomous driving is going to offer a tremendous extension of freedom and mobility, as well as more seamless and worry-free access to care providers. The CDC has found for drivers over the age of 70, the risks of auto injury and death rise sharply. Simply commuting safely to the market and pharmacy on their own will be a tremendous benefit for otherwise housebound seniors. A study by the University of Illinois at Chicago found 10 to 51 percent of patients reported lack of transportation is a barrier to healthcare access. As such, the autonomous driving revolution will provide patients — especially elderly ones — access to reliable transportation and ultimately, improved health outcomes overall.

Potential For Fewer Accidents And Quicker Emergency Response
Autonomous driving can potentially result in fewer accidents, which will ultimately result in fewer deaths and injuries on the road. Beyond simple safety, drivers who suffer from sudden illness while driving will have the opportunity to direct the car to take them directly to the emergency room. For example, earlier this August, a Tesla owner suffered a painful and potentially deadly pulmonary embolism while driving. Fortunately, the driver was able to instruct his car to take him to the nearest emergency room. The car successfully navigated the 20 miles to the hospital where he was able to obtain lifesaving treatment.

Disabilities Transformed
For persons with disabilities, autonomous vehicles have the potential to become truly life-altering. In fact, the first demo of a Google driverless car on public streets was with a blind person behind the wheel. In this digital evolution, consumers have access to everything through a smart phone or mobile device, including healthcare. There are several applications and online services currently available to easily connect patients to the care they need without any barriers or inconveniences. For example, a Boston startup announced its partnership with Uber to provide non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) to patients. This collaboration modernizes the current healthcare transportation system, allowing for a faster emergency response and a tailored patient experience based on his or her needs. The addition of autonomous vehicles will enable those with disabilities to safely travel, arrive to their destination, and receive the care they need — something once deemed impossible.

On-Demand Healthcare Services
As the transportation cloud transforms how we move about, an equally powerful “healthcare cloud” will emerge and provide near instantaneous access to healthcare services, based on passive monitoring and continuous feedback. Backed by Uber-like scheduling platforms, healthcare professionals will be more efficient based on smart appointment algorithms, mobile reminders, and decreased patient wait times.

For example, Medstar Health, the largest non-profit system in Maryland, has partnered with Uber to help transport patients to and from appointments. The partnership will also help decrease missed appointments and expenses. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately 3.6 million Americans miss medical appointments each year due to transportation problems. Included in this number are almost one million children. Additionally, the Transportation Research Board recently reported Medicaid pays $3 billion per year for non-emergency medical transportation, with approximately one-third funded incorrectly.

Commuting Turned Therapeutic
With people no longer chained behind the wheel, commute time can now include preventative treatment, along with inspiration on the way to work and relaxation and decompression on the way home. Vitals signs can be monitored from the car seat, with recommendations made for meals and exercise to promote a healthy living. Lastly, medication reminders can also be reviewed during the drive, as well as Skype calls with coaches and care providers.

Looking Ahead
Transportation and healthcare are slated to create an explosion of change, impacting both patients and providers. There will be inevitable disruptions to existing businesses and occupations as these changes take place, but new opportunities will arise as well. As consumers spend less time behind the wheel, they’ll have more time to tend to their fitness and well-being. Additionally, when direct access to healthcare is required, getting there and back will be far less time-consuming and stressful, especially for the elderly and disabled. As a result, the rapidly evolving transportation cloud will provide brand new levels of mobility and quality of life.

About the Author
Jim Walker is the Director of Marketing Strategy at Cadient, a Cognizant company. Prior to his role, he served as the Director of Emerging Trends at Cadient and a Brand Promotions Manager for AstraZeneca.