Uber or ambulance? New data shows some people are calling for a ride-share instead of 911

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Ambulance rides can be life-saving, but they aren't always cheap.

New data shows people are calling for Uber rides before calling 911 to get to the hospital in an emergency.

“We found data on ambulance volume by city, and because Uber entered different cities at different times over a couple of years we were able to use some of that natural variation to control for other things that were happening at those times,"said KU economics professor David Slusky. "So when you compare each city to itself before and after (Uber), you find ambulance volume going down about 7 percent in each city."

Slusky recently co-authored a paper explaining this relationship. He said the main factor driving people to choose Uber over an ambulance ride is cost.

Critics argue it’s not safe because the care you get during an ambulance ride could save your life.

Those who have used Uber in the past for this reason said it all boils down to the type of medical emergency you’re experiencing.

“If it was life-threatening -- like I wasn't coherent enough to know what was going on or one of my kids it seemed like they were turning blue -- that's an ambulance. That's an automatic. That's what ambulances should be used for,” Brandy Granados said.

Granados uses Uber frequently and said in the past, during emergency situations, it’s helped out a lot.

“About a year ago, I was having a horrible asthma attack. I had taken four breathing treatments and still couldn’t breathe," she said. "But taking an ambulance, that’s 300 bucks, so that just wasn’t going to work. So I ended up Ubering. It was $6.”

Slusky said he hopes his research will spark conversations that could possibly lead to a change in health care policy.

“One question this paper is raising is: Should we move a point of triage farther back up the chain?" he said. "Meaning, right now now you call 911 and an ambulance is going to come. But maybe it should be you call 911 and maybe there's a video part to 911 also, and they say, 'We're going to send a car with an EMT that's going to take you to the hospital, and it`s going to cost you a lot less.'"

Slusky said he plans to expand upon this work in the future.

An Uber spokesperson released the following statement:

“We're grateful our service has helped people get to where they're going when they need it the most. However, it's important to note that Uber is not a substitute for law enforcement or medical professionals. In the event of any medical emergency, we encourage people to call 911."

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