No smartphone, no problem: Lyft gets into health care

The next time New York City Medicaid patients head to the doctor, they may find themselves in the back of a Lyft.

National Medtrans Network arranges non-emergency medical transportation for people, like getting elderly patients to a checkup, a diabetic to their dialysis appointment, or anyone home from an emergency room visit.

Now, as part of a test program in New York City, its operators can book a Lyft car for clients using Concierge, a new web-based dashboard designed by Lyft.

Lyft is continuing its global uphill battle against Uber for regular riders, but in the meantime, it's looking for other ways to make money off its network of drivers. Lyft's 12-person enterprise team is working to get a foothold in industries like hospitality, corporate travel and medicine.

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This partnership is Lyft's first step into the medical world, which has the potential to be a huge industry for ride-hailing companies. Every year, about $3 billion in federal Medicaid money goes toward transportation.

Uber is also eying health care. The company recently offered on-demand flu shots and hired a health adviser. It is working with a company in Asia to ferry patients to the doctor.

Typically, National Medtrans Network calls livery cab companies to book rides. Cancellations, late cars and fraud are big problems. Sometimes it can take as many as six phone calls to complete one booking. A 2005 analysis found that 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical appointments every year because of transportation issues.

"The more and more we dig into this space, the more we realize it's a problem across the board," said Amit Patel, Lyft's director of enterprise partnerships.

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National Medtrans is now booking 2,500 of its 25,000 weekly rides in New York City through Lyft. Eventually, it wants arrange all those rides through Lyft, president Billy McKee said in a statement.

All the patients it's transported have been elderly, and many don't have a smartphone to book their own rides. For now, the service is focused on "ambulatory" patients, and is not booking vehicles customized for accessibility.

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