It’s a growing problem in the U.S. According to one study by the Community Transportation Association, more than 3.6 million people miss an appointment or put off going to see a doctor – simply because they don’t have transportation. Sadly, 950,000 are children – many of whom are low-income.
In larger cities, there is access to affordable public transit, but not everyone lives in a large urban area. And many are unable to navigate public transportation due to disabilities. In some instances, ambulances are used to transport patients to a doctor’s appointment, particularly if they’re traveling from a nursing home. Other municipalities allow patients to use a taxi, van, or private transport service to get to their appointments. Unfortunately, many of those options don’t have a mobility van or the ability to transport a patient who uses a wheelchair or one that requires a stretcher van.
Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) to the Rescue
Some patients on Medicare call an ambulance and go to an emergency room when they can’t get to see their physician. This is extremely costly and ends up tying up critical ambulance service that is for emergency response. Studies show that by using non-emergency medical transportation instead of an ambulance, Medicare can save about $367 per patient. That’s a substantial figure, and other studies show that NEMT is fifteen times less expensive than using an ambulance to take a patient to an emergency room.
Private transport companies that use full-size mobility vans can take multiple patients to see physicians at one time, saving even more money. Another study by Florida State University found that if only one percent of all NEMT patient trips went to see a physician instead of the emergency room, Florida would see a return of 1,108 percent on their expenditure.
Improved Patient Outcomes
After surgery, many patients can’t drive. It may be due to the surgical procedure, weakened muscles, or pain medication that prevents them from driving, but an alternative arrangement must be available to provide post-surgical care. Follow up appointments are critical to keeping patients healthy, so providing transportation to the physician is essential.
By providing NEMT services, the outcome from the surgery is far superior to those patients who do not receive follow-up care. Medicaid even considers continual access to medical care and treatment a mandatory benefit. Families that don’t have access to conversion vans or other types of transport that can accommodate a wheelchair or stretcher can use service providers booked through transportation brokers who utilize specialized smartphone apps or software. These brokers not only can confirm that the patient is eligible for the service; it can schedule the actual trip to the doctor.
Better Optimization for Transit Agencies
The software that brokers use can also ensure that the provider has appropriate licensing and proper equipment to transport patients, whether they have wheelchairs, mobility scooters, stretchers, or walkers. The transit agency who uses the software the brokers provide helps to optimize the process through a variety of ways. These include more efficient ride management, optimized routes, real-time vehicle tracking, better rider experience, and full reporting protocols.
One thing is clear: a more comprehensive NEMT system will help provide healthier patients and reduce overall transport costs for the agencies that serve this population. As healthcare evolves and providers move out of clinical settings and travel to patients at their homes or care facilities, more software-driven automated systems must be in place to manage the logistics and track outcomes. Doing so will continue to reduce costs and improve overall patient health.