MedStar Health, a nonprofit health care system with hospitals in Maryland and the district began a partnership with Uber in January that allows its patients who use Uber to access the ride service while on the hospital’s website and set up reminders for appointments. Medicaid patients who may not have access to the Uber app can also arrange the ride by calling the hospital’s patient advocates.
National MedTrans Network, a transportation system that provides non-emergency medical rides for patients and medical providers in a number of states, expanded its services through a partnership with Lyft last year in New York, California, and Nevada.
Hackensack UMC, a hospital in New Jersey, the Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Florida, and Relatient, a health care communication company have also announced partnerships with Uber in the past year. Veyo, a San Diego startup, says it is planning to offer a ride-hail-like technology for Medicaid patients to go to health-care appointments in Idaho.
“We probably had 50 different systems across the country reach out to us and ask us ‘How did you do it?’” said Michael Ruiz, chief digital officer for MedStar. “I would say that it has been a seismic shift for the people who have used the service and the places we’ve provided it.”
Patients’ costs for the services vary. For Medicaid patients, transportation for non-emergency medical visits are covered, although the extent of reimbursement depends on state rules. Traditional Medicare does not cover non-emergency medical transportation, although some private Medicare Advantage plans may offer some benefits.
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When going to a medical appointment becomes a hassle, patients are likely to miss the visit, and that can help lead to untreated symptoms or worsening health.
“Transportation can make it difficult for people to see health care providers in a regular basis,” said Ben Gerber, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has studied patient transportation issues. “It is important to see health care professionals regularly, especially for patients with diabetes or asthma.”
In a 2013 analysis of 25 studies, Gerber and colleagues found that 10 to 51 percent of patients reported that lack of transportation is a barrier to health care access. One of those studies showed that 82 percent of those who kept their appointments had access to cars, while 58 percent of those who did not keep appointments had that access. Another study reported bus users were twice as likely to skip on appointments compared to car users.
In addition to concerns about patients’ health, those absences can also be expensive for medical institutions, which lose revenue from the missed appointment.
Hospitals and managed care organizations do offer a variety of options to assist with transportation for non-emergency medical appointments. Health centers often work with volunteer drivers to pick up and drop off patients.