Uber Health Comes for Older Adult Market, Could Disrupt Senior Living

Uber recently hired its first chief medical officer to lead the expanding Uber Health division, tapping a geriatrician with a background in “designing clinical programs for older adults and vulnerable populations.”

Senior living providers should understand what the hiring of Dr. Mike Cantor as CMO means about the aspirations of Uber Health, and what it indicates about the shifting landscape for senior care and services in the United States.

In this week’s exclusive, members-only SHN+ Update, I analyze this recent news and offer key takeaways, including:


— Senior living transportation services are changing, particularly for the middle market

— Uber Health’s rise is another force shifting care to the home

— Senior living providers must prepare for “everything on demand” health care


No more senior living vans

Uber Health launched in 2018, making it easier for health care providers and payers to facilitate rides for patients to and from appointments.

But Uber Health has been expanding at a dramatic pace recently, thanks in part to increased demand during the pandemic. Since the start of 2020, the business has essentially doubled its client base — to 3,000 customers — and Uber Health logged a 70% increase in gross bookings on a year-over-year basis in Q4 2020.

Senior living providers already have been working with Uber, Lyft and other rideshare companies to provide transportation to residents and staff. I expect this trend to accelerate, and that senior living providers will help fuel Uber Health’s continued growth, for several reasons:

— Facing a staffing crisis, senior living providers will be happy to forgo finding or scheduling drivers for vans or buses

— Consumers increasingly want an individualized experience, and on-demand rides enable them to go where they want, when they want

— Shifting transportation to third-party partners could alleviate margin pressure by reducing insurance, vehicle upkeep and other costs

— Reducing transportation-related expenses also will help enable middle-market price points

Merrill Gardens President Tana Gall has singled out a new approach to transportation as one pillar of the Seattle-based provider’s Truewood middle-market model.

In focus groups to inform the creation of Truewood, consumers initially said they viewed transportation as a must-have service offered by a senior living community. But that perception changed after Gall explained transportation expenses, including around $80,000 for a bus and all the costs associated with having a CDL driver.

“The way I solve that transportation issue is, if you’re only paying $3,000 a month, then get an Uber or GoGo Grandparent or an Envoy — there’s some great transportation services developed for our industry already out there,” Gall said at SHN’s BUILD event in Nov. 2021.

Middle-market senior living also will be facilitated by the expansion of Medicare Advantage benefits to cover more chronic care costs and social determinants of health for residents, including transportation services.

Indeed, Uber Health is targeting partnerships with MA plans as an avenue for growth and already is working with insurers such as Centene. Payers recognize that to manage costs across their populations, their beneficiaries must be able to access transportation and reach needed care and services.

Uber Health expects that as CMO, Cantor will play a pivotal role in forging more payer partnerships, given his previous professional experiences, including at UnitedHealthcare Group.

‘Everything on demand’ health care

Last week, I wrote about the $265 billion Care at Home opportunity. Clearly, hiring Cantor is one step Uber Health is taking to play a larger (and more lucrative) role as more care shifts to the home. His resume also includes time at CareCentrix, which helps payers maximize value of in-home care for beneficiaries.

In other words, Uber Health is positioning itself to be more than a transportation provider for older adults.

Consider that Uber Health already has forged a partnership with Papa, the company that connects older adults with “Papa Pals” who provide companionship and light assistance. Now, Papa Pals can easily utilize Uber to meet transportation needs while they spend time with Papa clients. But Uber Health and Papa intend to “partner broadly, beyond rides,” according to an Uber blog post, which goes on to state:

“Uber Health also has the ability to provide tech-enabled solutions that can address the holistic needs of the older adult population – including healthy meal[s], grocery delivery, and prescription delivery using the Uber Eats platform. Both Papa and Uber Health believe that interactions with older adults in the home, coupled with improving access to care through rides and delivery, will improve health outcomes for this population.”

In fact, Uber Health aspires to facilitate an “everything on demand” experience of health care, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said at the 2021 Forbes Healthcare Summit.

Senior living providers need to be preparing for this on-demand future, and almost surely will be partnering with Uber Health not only for resident transportation but to access the wider menu of on-demand services that the company is developing.

Senior living providers might need to undertake physical plant changes to accommodate more frequent rideshare pick-ups and drop-offs, as well as the arrival of more packages. And it could change the economics of dining programs, if residents are more frequently ordering from meal delivery apps.

Indeed, operators will find their models disrupted as Uber Health and similar companies create alternatives to traditional transportation, dining, pharmacy and other services once part of standard senior living models. While scaling back on some of these services, senior living providers will have to expand their offerings beyond what people can receive on-demand in their single-family homes, in order to entice new residents. Such offerings might include same-day access to on-site primary care and wellness coaching, for example.

And more than ever, senior living providers need to maximize their main point of differentiation with single-family homes: opportunities for social connections. Technology will play a role here. For instance, tech can collect and crunch data about resident interests and goals, enabling more targeted programming to be developed, driving resident engagement. Fostering intergenerational interactions is also a smart area of focus, keeping in mind that this is a service that Papa and Uber Health are providing.

Staffing will also be affected, with new roles and new job descriptions needed as senior living providers become logistics experts for the on-demand health care economy. Expect providers to employ more coordinators to help quarterback care, technology concierges to support residents’ access to on-demand services, engagement managers facilitating a greater array of more individualized programming options, and workers manning busy delivery bays and assisting residents to their rideshare cars.

To be fair, this vision of the future is one that has been painted for years, since the initial rise of Uber and other apps made on-demand services commonplace. And senior living providers already are taking some of the steps I outlined above, with investments in resident engagement, the hiring of tech concierges and the addition of more on-site health care.

But the rapid expansion of Uber Health and the hiring of Cantor — taking place against a backdrop of shifts in consumer behavior and health care delivery caused by the Covid-19 pandemic — are signs that the pace of change is accelerating, and senior living providers need to act with urgency in creating and executing their strategies for the on-demand era.

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