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Patients who couldn’t get to their appointments and therapy sessions have long been a concern for Parveen Chand, chief operating officer for Indiana University Health Methodist and University hospitals.
Lack of transportation can have serious consequences. Research has shown that patients who face transportation barriers miss cancer screenings and prenatal checkups, can’t control chronic disease, visit the emergency department more often, and spend more time in the hospital. Transportation barriers often reveal themselves in two ways: when patients do not appear for scheduled appointments, or when patients are forced to use costly ambulances for non-emergency transport.
In 2018, IU Health saw cumulative missed-appointment rates of over 9%, with considerably higher rates in specific care areas: 15% missed behavioral health appointments, and close to 50% didn’t attend addictions treatment. IU Health clinicians patched together rides for the most urgent cases, but Chand felt there must be a better way.
In a moment of serendipity, the Indiana University Health Foundation spotted a solution: a U.S. Department of Transportation grant rewarding innovative solutions to transportation access, and a software that helps healthcare systems organize rides for patients. The Foundation secured a $208,352 DOT grant (the only one awarded in Indiana) that allows IU Health to license software that connects patients with non-emergency transportation options.
The potential exists for IU Health to use the software to review a menu of transportation options, ranging from medical vans and rural public-transit services to taxis and ride-share services. The innovative software will help IU Health determine what works best for a specific patient based on factors including location, medical condition, cost and whether a patient’s loved one needs to ride along.
“This platform and service have the potential to be a game-changer,” said Chand. “It gives IU Health care teams an important tool in managing patient health by allowing more patients to get to physician appointments, follow-up care, rehabilitation sessions and more.” The system is being piloted in Marion and surrounding counties to get people to appointments in downtown Indianapolis; if it proves successful, it will be rolled out statewide.
“Removing this barrier to care will make Hoosiers healthier,” said Jami Marsh, director of corporate and foundation relations for the IU Health Foundation. “This is a perfect example of how philanthropy supports the IU Health goal of making Indiana a healthier state.”
Based on results from other markets across the nation, transportation assistance works: Healthcare providers who have used similar technology have seen up to 50% reductions in missed appointments.
“No one should be blocked from getting the care they need simply because they don’t have a car or can’t drive,” said Lisa Brandt, vice president of population health at IU Health. She sees the service as a complement to telehealth, ensuring that patients get the care they need when a face-to-face appointment is necessary.
When using the new platform, a care manager may find in some cases that rural transit providers are the best option; in others, services like Uber or Lyft might ultimately be best. (Brandt recently negotiated a contract for services with Lyft, and she is also talking with Uber). Once the best transportation option is identified, the care manager engages the service and arranges for the patient to be transported to and from the appointment. In the future, the program may also send a healthcare provider to the patient’s home if that is more efficient and cost-effective.
If your corporation or foundation would like to partner with IU Health Foundation in ensuring that quality care is available to all Hoosiers, please contact Jami Marsh. For more information on the IU Health Foundation and its work to make Hoosiers healthier, visit iuhealthfoundation.org.