Last month we introduced the concept of “Transportation Deserts.” This occurs in communities where transportation demand far exceeds supply. Nationally, in large cities, one in eight residents live in a transportation desert. As younger white-collar workers move back to cities and fewer millennials choose not to own vehicles or ever get a driver’s license, the poor and elderly are being priced out of their own cities and pushed farther from transportation hubs.

This phenomenon builds a strong case for healthcare providers needing to invest in non-emergent medical transportation services. Traditionally, providers questioned the ROI in this type of investment, but numerous studies make a strong business case for doing just that:

  • Patients reporting unmet transportation needs are 2.6x as likely to report multiple ER visits and 2.2x as likely to report an IP visit over a 12-month period.
  • Patients with higher transportation risk had an average of 41% more excess days in the hospital. 
  • 66 % of physicians believe assistance arranging healthcare transportation helps patients.

       Until recently, physicians were prohibited from paying for patient transportation, but the OIG created a Safe Harbor allowing providers to pay for transportation without violating anti-inducement rules. With appointment no-show rates running as high as 35% in some practices, providing non-emergent medical transportation can serve as both a revenue generator and a cost reduction tool.  Equally important, the provision of medical transportation assists physicians to meet quality metrics associated the value- based programs, i.e. post discharge PCP follow-up visits.

While 72% of hospitals report not having the funds to address the social needs of their target populations, there is also a strong ROI opportunity for hospitals to invest in patient transportation. Economic benefits include; improved patient throughput, reduced readmissions rates, reduced uncompensated care, and demonstrating their ability to improve community health outcomes and achieving health equity for their patients.

Even the payer community is recognizing the value of investing in patient transportation. Medicaid has, for many years, included transportation as a covered benefit and annually the Medicaid programs spends more than $5 billion for non-emergent medical transportation. CMS, through its Uniformity Standard regulation effective January 1,2019 now allows Medicare Advantage Plans to offer transportation to medical appointments as supplemental benefit.

A recent survey of Commercial plans indicated that 80% plan to address Social Determinants of Health to include patient transportation. All these trends and opportunities do make the case that patient transportation is a smart investment. However, one major question remains and that’s how providers choose the right transportation partner. Next month we will provide the answer to that question so please tune in.