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Combating social isolation through enabling access to care

July 12 / US

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness and social isolation were recognized as threats to people’s health, particularly with the growing senior population in the US. Pre-pandemic research by Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 22% of US adults always or often feel lonely. These feelings have become more prevalent recently: the Medicare Current Beneficiaries Survey found that more than one-third of Medicare beneficiaries reported feeling less socially connected to friends and family since the start of the pandemic.

Loneliness and social isolation can pose negative physical and mental health risks—in some cases being as dangerous as obesity or smoking. Stopping driving is one risk factor for increased social isolation. According to a Journal of Aging and Health study, older adults who recently became nondrivers were twice as likely to be more socially isolated than those who had not been driving for a longer time. 

Luckily, there are many ways to address social isolation. Health plans can, for example, add specific benefits to help their members (both driving and nondriving), such as transportation and meal-delivery solutions. These help people take back their independence—for instance, in getting to their healthcare appointments. 

Multiple companies are supporting health plans with this in numerous ways. One is Papa, a nationwide provider that pairs older adults and families with trained Papa Pals, who, among other things, might be able to drive the older adults to appointments. Another is GoGoGrandparent, which provides rides, meal and grocery delivery to consumers, governments, and Medicare Advantage Plans.

A similarity among these solutions is that all of them can be integrated with Uber Health. Uber Health enables access to care for those who need it the most, by connecting patients with transportation and other logistics services with the same consumer experience as the Uber app, while addressing logistical and structural barriers such as language barriers and lack of tech proficiency. On-demand rides, like those found on Uber, can prevent loneliness and create opportunities for connection with family, friends, and community. 

When it comes to preventing loneliness, Papa Pals offer companionship and comfort for the individuals they’re paired with. They also help out around the house or with other tasks like driving members to medical appointments or community events. Papa recognizes the impact of transportation on health outcomes. The organization and Uber Health believe that interactions with older adults and families in the home, coupled with improving access to care through rides and delivery, will improve health outcomes for this population.

“At Papa, we provide older adults and families with critical social support that improves well-being and closes important clinical care gaps,” says Papa’s Vice President of Marketplace, Shaila Parikh. “Our partnership with Uber Health ensures we can get our members to vital doctor’s appointments or other places they need to go in the event a Papa Pal isn’t able to assist them. Thanks to our Uber Health partnership, we’re successfully removing barriers and bringing support to those who need it, when they need it.” 

An example of how GoGoGrandparent helps older adults and people with disabilities access and manage ride options with Uber is 88-year-old Katherine Whaley. Giving up her car keys was not a decision she made lightly. Katherine and her husband, Frank, also 88, knew it was time but struggled to imagine all the ways it might affect their life and the places they needed to go, such as church, doctor’s appointments, and visits with family. Katherine shared: “It’s extremely important to me to be able to get out and go whenever I need to. I like my independence.”

Katherine took matters into her own hands. She didn’t have a smartphone at the time, so she began using GoGoGrandparent, available nationwide, from her landline to help find rides on the Uber platform. The service also works for Frank, who has lost his sight. An accessibility feature allows him to say where he wants to go, instead of pressing numbers on his phone. Now even with a new smartphone, the Whaleys still choose to use GoGoGrandparent to request rides with Uber, which lets them maintain their independence and age at home. 

“Having hung up your car keys, you haven’t hung up your life. This is simply stellar.” – Katherine and Frank Whaley, both 88, about using GoGoGrandparent and Uber Health

Ultimately, these organizations aim to continue delivering innovations to connect their members with healthcare solutions, especially among vulnerable communities in the US. This is a great step toward combating social isolation and increasing a sense of community. Flexible non-health-related supplemental service benefits like GoGoGrandparent and Papa are vital tools that can make an impact on social determinants of health. 

If you’d like to hear more about how Uber Health is making it easier for health plans to manage supplemental benefits, please contact us

Since 2018, Uber Health’s HIPAA-supported solution has helped enable access to care and services for healthcare organizations focused on population health management. By tapping into Uber’s logistics expertise, Uber Health helps connect millions to the care they need. Over 3,000 healthcare customers trust Uber Health to provide access to options for stress-free transportation and critical deliveries, helping streamline population health management and supporting better patient outcomes. For more information, visit