Should you ride an Uber in an emergency?

Just imagine that one of the worst things imaginable has just happened: You’ve been shot. Your first thought is to reach for your phone and call 911. Nothing is better than the ambulance, right? Turns out, the next time you’re facing a medical trauma, you might want to consider grabbing an Uber or a taxi.

Every year, millions of people around the world take ambulances to the hospital. But in some countries like the States, some are choosing a more unorthodox approach – opting to hail an Uber instead in emergency situations. Drivers are sharing several stories of taking passengers to the emergency room with broken bones, asphyxia and even going into labor. Drivers say it has become increasingly common, with more stories emerging of people using the company for their medical emergencies.

Why you may ask? There are several reasons why riders might choose a hail-cab service: short wait time, low cost, and a choice of hospital. A recent study by Johns Hopkins University, published in JAMA Surgery, also found:

The study examined data, collected by the American College of Surgeons’ National Trauma Data Bank, from 103,029 patients with a gunshot or stab wound. It found an overall 2.2 percent mortality rate for patients transported via private vehicle — taxi, ride-sharing program, a friend’s car — compared with 11.6 percent for ground emergency medical services and ambulance.

Time and EMS protocol are to blame for the lower survival rate for patients transported by ambulance. If you’re only six blocks from the hospital when you get shot, and your friend drives, you can be there in minutes. But, , if you call 911, valuable treatment time can be lost. The dispatcher also sends the police to ensure it’s safe for the ambulance to come into the area — to make sure, for example, a potential gunman or perpetrator is gone.

Paramedics must follow medical procedures established by their state, city or county. But these treatments aren’t always helpful to people with gunshot or stab wounds. For instance, most EMS providers are required to give patients IV fluids, but for stabbing or gunshot victims, it often wastes time and could increase their risk of dying by causing them to bleed more.

So, should you opt for an Uber over an ambulance if you’ve been shot? Not necessarily. While lifesaving interventions by EMS personnel are rare, the Uber option is better when you’re certain nothing will happen en route that could be corrected by a trained EMS provider. Transportation by private vehicle is not the best option in rural areas where the nearest trauma center could be miles away or when there are mass causalities, as in an active shooter situation. But in some trauma situations, calling an ambulance is a lifesaving move. Everyone has been taught to call 911, but consider other options if you’ve been shot or stabbed and know the location of the nearest trauma center — ERs are not trauma centers — and that you’re close enough to get there quickly by private vehicle.

So should there be a need to make a choice in the future, understand the pros and cons. As a basic rule of thumb, if the ER is close by and the wound is not severely life threatening, take the Uber route. But if it is, I would rather err on the side of caution. Be safe.

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