Patient access isn’t a new buzzword in healthcare, but it wasn’t until recently that the industry started taking note of the impact transportation has on health outcomes and costs. Patient health is largely impacted by social and economic factors outside of the walls of a medical office, and hospitals and health systems are stepping up to address transportation barriers that prevent their patients from receiving the care they need. The results of healthcare outreach are staggering no-show reductions and cost savings.
The Domino Effect of Transportation Barriers
According to the American Hospital Association, 3.6 million individuals experience transportation barriers that prevent them from accessing medical care. In fact, one-third of missed medical appointments for seniors are a result of transportation challenges. Older generations aren’t the only ones missing out on care due to transportation, however. Four percent of children in the U.S. miss appointments every year because of transportation barriers
Transportation barriers in both urban and rural communities limit a patient’s ability to attend scheduled appointments. Generally, those impacted the most by transportation challenges are patients who are older, female, low income, less educated, or in a minority group—or a combination of multiple characteristics. Limitations may be a result of:
- Living geographically distant from healthcare services
- Not possessing a driver’s license
- Not having access to a working vehicle
- Being unable to drive due to a physical, cognitive, or mental limitation
- Costs associated with transportation options
Without reliable and consistent transportation to care, patients may miss appointments and thereby experience poorer health outcomes and increased health spending. Not only does this put your patient’s health at risk, no-shows may result in lost revenue for your clinic and costly emergency room visits or hospital readmissions.
Healthcare’s Role in Reducing Transportation Barriers
In the past, health systems have sought to improve patient access by addressing the most obvious barriers, such as scheduling conflicts or physician shortages. Today, healthcare organizations recognize their role in addressing transportation challenges, too, and are deploying various strategies to improve patient access through healthcare outreach for transportation.
For example, many health systems are establishing relationships with popular rideshare transportation services such as Uber and Lyft. These community partnerships are helping healthcare providers and organizations establish access to care for their patients, resulting in:
- Improved wellness for patients
- Increased health quality outcomes
- Reduced costs for patients and health systems
Such partnerships are starting to announce proven cost savings and impressive ROI, some of which include:
- A 27 percent reduction in no-shows at an internal medicine clinic in Minneapolis
- A 30 percent reduction in direct transportation costs for a cancer center in New Jersey
Transportation strategies must be targeted and comprehensive to address a wide range of transportation gaps. The following are suggested strategies for effectively addressing transportation barriers to maximize patient access.
Evaluate Your Patients’ Transportation Needs
Patients may be embarrassed to admit transportation challenges, so it is the responsibility of the health system to proactively identify and screen patients who may not be able to obtain reliable transportation on their own. Whether it’s a financial barrier or a physical limitation, health systems can conduct healthcare outreach based on transportation barriers by partnering with automated solutions that integrate with their electronic health record. From insurance to condition and treatment, this kind of software uses filtering criteria to determine eligibility for patients who may need a ride. With easy EHR integration, you can easily sync your appointment data to automate healthcare outreach.
Explore Ways to Offer Direct Transportation Services
Once you’ve identified which patients are eligible for a ride, there’s a variety of ways to offer transportation. Some health systems offer a door-to-door shuttle service or volunteer-driver programs. However, a more cost-effective and convenient option may be to partner with ridesharing companies like Uber or Lyft, as mentioned above.
Various healthcare technology companies have already started establishing such partnerships which allow health systems to benefit from automated communication solutions that use two-way text to find out if eligible patients need a ride. When they respond ‘yes’, these solutions automatically generate a ride offer via text, letting the patient know when their ride will arrive so they can be on time for their healthcare appointment. After the appointment, returning home can be just as easy with automated communications systematically scheduling patients a ride based on when is convenient for them. In either direction, patients can receive real-time ride updates via their smartphone.
Ridesharing collaborations aren’t limited to just healthcare appointments. Health systems can also offer transportation options for helping patients pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy, too, helping with medication and care plan adherence. For a more comprehensive approach, other organizations are leveraging healthcare outreach to help with transportation to grocery stores or safe places to exercise, too.
Promote Alternative Transportation Options Through Healthcare Outreach
Finally, increase awareness through community-based partnership conducting outreach for transportation solutions. Often patients are unaware of resources they may be eligible for and as a result, they neglect to enroll in programs that could help them navigate to their appointments.
Non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT), for example, is a core Medicaid benefit offering transportation services to patients who face barriers in getting to their medical appointments. NEMT healthcare outreach can also be offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and private insurers. State rules vary, but it’s important to review your own community health needs assessments to determine what kind of solutions would best serve your patient populations, whether it’s travel vouchers or ridesharing services.
On-demand transportation platforms can catalyze improved healthcare outcomes and reduced costs by offering automated transportation options that boast convenience and simplicity. Proactively offering transportation options eliminates the need for patients to worry about their ride so they can focus on making healthy choices that are within their control.
Overcoming transportation challenges requires a community-wide effort but the most effective solutions need to have health systems at the center. By addressing transportation challenges using automated healthcare outreach, health organizations can improve patient access for patients and thereby create healthier communities.