Healthcare News & Insights

Hospitals help patients with transportation issues

Transportation access can be a significant barrier to patients getting the treatments they need, which may hinder their recovery and lead to readmissions. Because hospitals are being called upon to improve population health through some unconventional means, some facilities are tackling the problem of inadequate patient transportation head-on. 

GettyImages-547168654Past research shows that patients who have reliable transportation are more likely to keep their appointments with specialists, primary care physicians and other providers.

In fact, according to one analysis of multiple studies from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, one of the most significant barriers to getting health care in a timely manner was lack of a car.

Two studies said that 25% of patients missed appointments because of problems with transportation. And per the findings of one study, 82% of patients who kept their appointments had access to a car, while only 58% of those who missed appointments did.

Even with public transportation options, many patients without cars find it difficult to keep appointments. Some hospitals offer their own volunteer ride-sharing services for these patients, but most require patients to arrange for a ride days in advance, which may be difficult.

Ride-sharing partnerships

In response to the transportation problem, several hospitals have gone the extra mile to make sure patients have reliable transportation on the day of their appointments, as discussed in an article from The Atlantic.

To better serve patients with few transportation options, facilities are collaborating with ridesharing companies such as Lyft and Uber to make sure patients have rides to surgeries or follow-up visits.

A hospital in New Jersey, Hackensack University Medical Center (HackensackUMC), says it was the first facility in the country to partner directly with Uber as a way to provide its patients with ride-sharing services.

According to a press release about the initiative, HackensackUMC has a special area designated for Uber pick-ups and drop-offs where staff help patients in and out of the vehicles. In addition, patients can receive reminders about appointments – and the need to book an Uber ride – directly from the hospital’s mobile app. The hospital also has a ride request landing page on its website.

Other facilities have followed HackensackUMC’s lead, according to The Atlantic. Example: MedStar Health, a health system with hospitals in Maryland and Washington D.C., has partnered with Uber so patients can easily set up rides through the service.

Patients are able to access Uber directly through MedStar’s website, and they can also set up appointment reminders. Medicaid patients who have limited Internet access can call the patient advocate for each hospital to arrange pick-up and drop-off services.

Other considerations

Because these transportation services are offered through outside companies, patients may incur some out-of-pocket charges. HackensackUMC absorbs a portion of the costs through its partnership with Uber, and new patients can get their first ride free. (Staff can also take advantage of discount Uber services, which can be helpful for those working long night shifts.)

Medicaid patients have full coverage for transportation to non-emergency medical appointments. While Medicare doesn’t traditionally cover these transportation services, they may be offered through some Medicare Advantage plans. Private payors vary as to whether they cover non-emergency medical transportation.

Besides cost, other drawbacks of using ride-sharing services include driver accessibility, particularly in rural areas, and the lack of resources available to transport patients who need wheelchairs. However, offering the option removes a big barrier to healthcare access for many patients.

Because Uber is expanding its partnerships with hospitals, it may be a good idea to see if your hospital can work with Uber or a similar local ride-sharing service to expand its transportation offerings. This could make patients more likely to attend follow-up appointments, which can make a significant positive impact on their recovery.

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