As baby boomers are hitting 65 at a rate of 10,000 a day, and healthier lifestyles are keeping them in their homes longer, demand is escalating for a little talked-about — yet critical — health care-related job: Transporting people to and from nonemergency medical appointments.
“It’s going to become a massive phenomena,” said Ken Dychtwald, founder and chief executive of Age Wave, a consulting firm specializing in age-related issues. “This is an unmet need that’s going to be in the tens of millions of people.”
It’s no longer enough to call a taxi or car service and hope that frail seniors can get in and out — or through the entrance of a doctor’s office on their own. For people requiring oxygen tanks and wheelchairs, it’s an even bigger challenge. Many older people require sensitive, skilled or specially certified drivers. “It’s more than pick up and drop off,” Dychtwald said.
As many as 30 percent of all patients skip doctor appointments, citing transportation as a key reason, said a report by SCI Solutions, a health care technology firm. The no-shows cost the health care industry $150 billion in lost revenue annually, as unused time slots cost a doctor an average of $200, the report said.
Dychtwald said the need for “transport care” it isn’t limited to older people. Recovering drug addicts and cancer, dialysis, physical therapy and low-income patients are among those needing to travel to regular medical appointments.
“With people living and working longer, and advances in health care, it’s a need that’s not going to go away,” said Tom Ailor, president of TenderCare of Virginia, a nonemergency medical transportation company.
Several technology startups, RoundTrip, Circulation Inc. and Kaizen Health have set up shop over the past two years to address this need. Each created an online portal that complies with federal regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and makes it easy to find, book and track customized rides for patients. Each company partners with health care facilities and transportation companies, which matches skilled drivers with patients’ needs. It even handles the insurance end.
Mark Switaj saw the problem firsthand while working as an emergency medical technician and at other health care-related jobs for 15 years. “I saw patients giving up — simply not going to their doctor anymore because they felt the ride was really a burden to them,” he said.
So, he created RoundTrip in 2017, which is based in Philadelphia. Now, a patient or social worker can log onto the RoundTrip portal and book a ride. The patient receives phone calls or texts, with real-time updates on the status of the ride, which can cost up to 40 percent less than a taxi voucher, be booked in about a minute and be tracked from start to finish, Switaj said. He said the no-show rate for medical facilities using his portal was less than 4 percent.
RoundTrip has 15 care partners and 200 transportation companies in its network in more than 23 states.
Circulation, based in Boston, has grown rapidly since it started in 2016. It partners with 95 health care providers in 45 states. John Brownstein, a professor at Harvard Medical School and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, came up with the idea after the success of Uber Health, another program he created in 2014.
“We put nurses into Uber vehicles and delivered flu shots to where people were,” he said, and people signed up in droves. So, he decided to create a similar program that would make it easier for people to get to nonemergency medical appointments.
Bill Lubenow, 78, of Haddonfield, N.J., used to spend an hour driving to the train station, taking the train to Philadelphia and then walking to the hospital for his hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions four times a week as part of his post-cancer therapy. Then his daughter, Anne, who lives in Chicago, started booking his transportation through RoundTrip, which allowed her to track the ride to make sure her father got there and back safely. He said the trip now takes him only about 20 minutes. “It’s faster, more convenient and less stressful.”