Non-Medical Transportation Is Crucial to Post-COVID-19 Healthcare
Posted by Sean Timm
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, a shocking number repeatedly came up when looking at patients who miss their appointments. For 3.6 million Americans, it was because they had no way to get to their provider. Reliable transportation, even non-medical transportation (NMT), is one of the often-overlooked hallmarks of whether or not a patient can receive regular care.
Unlike Emergency Medical Transportation (EMT) — ambulatory services — and Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) — the door-to-door service from trained professionals and companies for patients with mobility needs — NMT addresses the specific availability of transportation options. From cabs to trains, NMT facilitates patient travel, something that is more important now than ever.
While the healthcare industry has changed dramatically since The Transportation Research Board first highlighted the 3.6 million-person discrepancy in patient appointments, one thing remains true. Far too many patients forgo or delay care because physically getting to a doctor’s office is impossible. That dilemma has only become more poignant and hard to solve with a global health crisis.
Telehealth Isn’t Enough On Its Own
There is no doubt that during a pandemic if a patient doesn’t specifically need to be in a physician’s office, it is likely safer for them not to be. Since the first days of the outbreak and the very first stay-at-home orders, Telehealth has been key to continuing patient care.
Thanks to numerous regulation changes and nudges from the federal government, Telehealth usage has increased across the country. In June, a bipartisan group of 30 senators sent a letter to Senate leadership requesting a potential permanent extension to those changes, an issue over which the Senate soon began serious debates.
Even if Telehealth usage continues and becomes a new industry norm, however, it still won’t be enough on its own. No matter how many visits can transition to virtual calls, there will always be a need for in-person physician care. That’s where other unfortunate effects of COVID-19 start coming into play.
Patients Are Looking For an Option Other Than Mass Transit
Accentuated with the recent update from the World Health Organization (WHO), acknowledging the potential for airborne spread of the coronavirus in enclosed spaces, there is a growing fear of public transportation among patients. Even worse, multiple studies suggest that fear isn’t unwarranted — linking higher COVID-19 death rates to populations more reliant on public transit.
To their credit, public transit authorities are doing everything they can to make sure trains and buses are as safe as possible for passengers. That said, there is still no escaping the fact many of us will hesitate before boarding a crowded bus or train again anytime soon.
The general public’s relationship with mass transit is changing in real-time. While no one can predict the outcome, it is likely to involve higher costs, less convenience, and fewer transportation options for patients trying to reach their local physician. Thankfully, Non-Medical Transportation can help.
It is far easier to ensure sanitation and limit person-to-person contact in a car with only one person, such as a cab, Uber, or Lyft, than it is on a crowded bus or train. It is easier for drivers and passengers to take precautions. And whether a patient chooses a cab or does take mass transit, NMT benefits through Medicaid can, at the very least, go towards offsetting the cost.
Patient Fear Means Providers Have to Do Even More
Patient uncertainty is at an all-time high across the nation. That fear keeps people from getting the care they need, and there is no easy solution to fix it. Informing patients about possible Non-Medical Transportation benefits and doubling down on patient engagement, though, can go a long way.
Through a combination of Telehealth, additional transportation options, and continued emphasis on quality care, the healthcare industry can tackle the current crisis and improve community health far into the future.