UberHEALTH Will Bring You Flu Shots For Free, So Lyft, Your Move Is Next

When Uber launched its one-day kitten delivery service last year in honor of National Cat Day, I was broken hearted by the missed opportunity of a midday cuddle session. Almost exactly one year later, I am left disappointed once again by yet another missed opportunity — on Thursday, Uber launched UberHEALTH, an on-demand flu shot delivery program that ran for a measly five hours in Boston, Washington DC and New York City. If you think Uber is only in the business of moving people to their desired locations, think again. Uber delivery is on the rise.

On Thursday, the wildly successful (and ultra-competitive) car service tested a partnership with Harvard Medical School's Vaccine Finder program to create a one-day — or rather, five-hour — UberHEALTH program. According to the company's blog post about the pilot program, Uber users would be able to request flu prevention packs and shots that would then be delivered directly to them, all free of charge. Rather than bringing you to the hospital, cars instead transported registered nurses to a location of your choosing, where a healthcare professional would arrive with up to 10 flu shots to be distributed and dispensed among your friends.

The best part, of course, was that it was free and you didn't need an insurance card.

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Uber's program, certainly one of the first of its kind in the transportation industry, reflects a growing trend in health technology that is increasingly leveraging smartphone and mobile devices to bring healthcare to more people. Just last week, Google launched a new component of its Google Helpouts feature, which allowed Googlers in California or Massachusetts to speak directly to a doctor via video chat, free of charge, to assess a health situation. Rather than allowing hypochondriacs to self-diagnose themselves into a premature death, the new Google feature prompts users to call a doctor after searching for common disease symptoms, like a runny nose, sore throat, or back pain.

UberHEALTH goes a step further — rather than just diagnosing your problem, the car service seeks to bring its cure, or its vaccine, in this case, directly to you. John Brownstein, a professor at Harvard who initiated the project this summer, told NBC News that UberHealth has "huge potential" to "deliver more convenience into delivery of care."

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And if convenience is a factor in determining how many Americans get their flu shots, a disease that affects nearly 20 percent of the national population each year, it seems that Uber's new role as a healthcare delivery system is an important one. Already, flu shots are generally administered some place other than the doctor's office, with large retailers like Walmart, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies offering the same service at relatively low prices. According to the 2013 Morb Mortal Weekly Report, the majority of adults who were vaccinated against the flu last year did so outside of the hospital.

As easy as it may be to drive over to your friendly neighborhood pharmacy, Uber is trying to make things even simpler by reintroducing the concept of doctor house calls. After all, why go somewhere to get something if you can have it brought straight to you? That seems to be the business model Uber is promoting, not only with its kitten delivery system and UberHEALTH, but also with Uber ice cream trucks and Uber Valentine's Day deliveries. If you're looking to create the single laziest country in the world, Uber, you're right on track.

But just how well did this flu vaccine system work? Uber itself predicted that the service would be hugely popular and would require quite a bit of patience, but there were a few unforeseen hiccups as well.

For example, Forbes writer Dan Diamond reported that while DC residents were supposedly made aware of the deal by way of a 9 am email, he didn't receive the message until 1 pm. And given that the service only ran until 3 pm, he had but two hours to request a flu shot. Unfortunately, that didn't work out quite so well either, as Diamond wrote that he was "repeatedly unable to actually order a flu shot."

Galen Moore of BostInno suffered a similar fate, writing,

I tried to summon the Flüber a handful of times, starting at 10 a.m. sharp. No dice. Just for fun, I moved the pin over to Boston's Longwood Medical Area, arguably the tightest concentration of advanced health care institutions in the world. Still nothing.

Some Boston residents were of the opinion that Uber only had one car in service the entire day, which greatly limited the number of people who were able to take advantage of the flu shot promotion. But even so, a lucky few certainly managed to land a free flu shot, and all with the tap of a button.

UberHEALTH was only a trial program, so there's no telling whether Uber users who missed out on this round will have the opportunity to get their free shot in the future. But with its considerable popularity Thursday, Lyft might just need to consider delivering free birth control to keep up.

Images: Getty Images (2); CharlesMCrocker, Workbar/Twitter