Uber 911

How the company changing the way we travel can change the way we save lives.

Minqi Jiang
Mar 17, 2015 · 3 min read

In New York City, the median response time for an ambulance is 6.1 minutes. The median wait time for an Uber is 2.42 minutes in Manhattan, and 3.1 minutes in the outer boroughs.

Note that the cited ambulance response time does not include the activation time, which is the amount of time between receiving the call and actually dispatching the ambulance, nor the call wait time, which is the amount of time between placing the emergency call and being connected to an operator. That is to say, in practice, you can expect to wait even longer for an ambulance. In fact, in NYC, the standard ceiling for an acceptable ambulance wait time is 10 minutes.

I’m using NYC as an example, but the situation is similar in other urban areas, where Uber’s mobile, driver-centric dispatch system combined with its geographic network effects greatly outperform traditional 911 emergency response times.

This disparity in wait times isn’t surprising considering both the ubiquity of Ubers in many cities and the complexity behind largely human-operated dispatch systems, such as the one deployed by the City of New York.

From NYC’s own 911 Performance Report:

Due to the complex and varied nature of the calls to the City’s 911 system, the process of responding to those emergencies involves seven different systems that work together to handle any type of incident that may occur.

Below is a detailed schematic of the various steps taken by the NYC 911 dispatch system to service a single request. Note how an actual person must perform each handoff down the responder chain.

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For certain acute medical episodes, the typical wait time for an ambulance can be fatal. For example, in the case of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), which bodes a survival rate of less than 5% and strikes nearly 6 million people worldwide every year, each minute in which defibrillation is delayed decreases the victim’s likelihood of survival by 7-10%. Annually, SCA claims as many lives as Alzheimers disease, assault with firearms, breast cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, HIV, house fires, motor vehicle accidents, prostate cancer and suicides combined. Delivering a shock to the victim via a defibrillator within the first minutes of the attack can greatly increase the survival rate by up to 75%.

In such emergency medical episodes, every second counts. An Uber can now arrive on the scene several times faster than an ambulance. Even before the dispatch, Uber’s minimal, push-of-a-button interface also requires much less time and effort to request a vehicle than the alternative of dialing 911, waiting for an operator, and explaining the situation to the operator. This presents a major opportunity for Uber to advance the delivery of emergency healthcare: Properly trained Uber drivers could act as a fast vector of care delivery for certain medical conditions, while traditional, expert care is concurrently called upon as “back-up.”

Starting with SCA, Uber can begin to save millions of lives a year. It simply needs to mandate all its drivers to carry one automated external defibrillator (AED) and to go through the American Heart Association’s brief (only 4 hours) CPR and AED training course. With more investment, the emergency wait time can be slashed even further if Uber also finds the right partnerships to enable emergency lighting and sirens on its vehicles.

The opportunity, of course, does not end at SCA. Consider the multitude of other acute medical conditions which require emergency care, such as allergy attacks that may lead to anaphylactic shock (deliver an EpiPen) or severe asthma attacks (deliver an inhaler). And as technology continues to improve, and emergency medical equipment becomes more and more operable by an average person, the first-aid kit that belongs inside every Uber should grow vaster, and the opportunity to save lives grows ever larger.

UPDATE 3/24/2015: Jimmy Kimmel did a skit based on this article!

By Minqi Jiang, co-founder of Hyper

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