Have Wheels, Will Heal — Medical’s Transportation Ecosystem?

Ride Health

While there is no shortage of issues to be solved in the U.S. healthcare system – getting patients to keep the doctors’ appointments they make and then take the medications that their doctors prescribe is one that has a cascading effect of issues across the consumer and healthcare provider ecosystem.

For instance, as PYMNTS has previously covered — patient non-compliance has become an endemic issue. As many as 30 percent of doctors’ appointments result in no-shows and as many as 900,000 deaths per year — or roughly 40 percent of the U.S. mortality rate are linked to preventable causes that could have been managed with earlier screenings. According to data from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, as much as 30 percent of prescriptions are never filled, and 50 percent of those prescribed for chronic diseases don’t take their medication correctly. The result is 125,000 deaths and 10 percent of all hospitalizations.

And while there is a tendency to think of patients as willfully non-compliant — i.e., not showing up to their doctors’ appointments or taking their pills on time because they aren’t taking the care they need to be good stewards of their health. The reality is, many Americans fail to pick up their prescriptions or make it to their doctors’ appointments not because they don’t want to go but because they can’t — they lack adequate access to transportation. According to data from the Transportation Research Board,  about 3.6 million Americans do not obtain medical care because of a lack of transportation in a given year. On average, they are disproportionately female, lower-income and older; have less education; and are more likely to be members of a minority group and live in a rural area.

It is a problem that Ride Health Founder and CEO Imran Cronk ran into firsthand about six years ago while volunteering at a rural North Carolina hospital. He found himself dealing with a patient discharged at midnight, contemplating a nine-mile walk home because he didn’t have a ride. At the time, Cronk broke a rule — and gave him a lift home. But it also got him thinking that for patients to be able to access medical care appropriately, they have to be able to physically get there to do it.

Ride Health is a platform that is designed basically to do that — to connect patients who need a ride to the various methodologies that might transport them, including from public transit and ride-hailing to wheelchair-accessible vehicles and ambulance. It doesn’t work direct to consumer. Instead, its platform seeks to connect health plans and healthcare providers with a variety of transportation options that they can then offer to patients under their care.

The company this week closed on a $6.2 million seed funding round led by Activate Venture Partners and joined by Newark Venture Partners, BioAdvance and Startup Health, according to a statement from Ride Health.

According to Cronk, they are a network management software platform with a special emphasis on medical transportation.

A special emphasis, he noted that is needed given the complexities of the medical transportation ecosystem, which tends to be riddled with gaps in coverage, lack of coordination, language barriers and idiosyncrasies that have repeatedly proven hard to navigate at scale. Uber — Ride Health is now a partner — and ride-sharing services in general, he noted, illustrates the issue.

Last October, Uber announced its integration with Cerner Corp., which would give caregivers the ability to schedule rides for patients, as part of its Uber Health program designed to make medical transportation easier to provide through the platform. Lyft is working to cover rides for Medicaid beneficiaries in select states. Uber is a collaborator for Ride Health, because when looking at the totality of the access problem, he noted, ridesharing services on their own aren’t sufficient to solve the problem.

To build this to scale as a solution, Cronk noted,  it has built a way that does not make assumptions about patients. This system has to be effective for people who don’t have a smartphone, or who live in a rural area where there is no access to rideshare or who need assistance with mobility or who don’t speak English. Moreover, there is a lot of technical, nuanced clinical workflow that goes into making transportation requests within healthcare programs.

Ride Health, is built to fit into that unspeakably complicated workflow and integrate with it, so that the third party transportation provider, be it a ridesharing platform, public bus or private ambulance service doesn’t have to. Instead, the ride can be booked, the provider of the ride can be reimbursed and Ride Health can manage the settle up with the provider on the backend.

Access to healthcare, he said, isn’t a problem that can be solved entirely by better access to transportation.  There are a lot of breakpoints in the U.S. healthcare system, which is why costs have gotten so high while services are at an all-time low.

But the cure for an ailing system is to find the points where it is most broken — and where the fixes are attainable. Medical transportation as it is now done, he noted, is one of those breakpoints — the sheer volume of missed appointments and failures of follow up care testify to the fact that “traditional approaches to medical transportation fail patients and providers at scale on a daily basis.”