Nonprofit healthcare network Sutter Health is collaborating with the transportation network company Lyft to help support patient and staff transportation needs. Starting Monday, Sutter hospitals and care centers around Northern California will have the option to start implementing customized, individual transportation programs -- which the system says is an important next step in simplifying access to care.
How clinical staff get to and from work isn't always considered when evaluating pain points within a workflow, but it plays an important role in healthcare delivery. Sutter recognized this when looking for ways to better support its home healthcare teams, who can use their own vehicles to travel to and from patient homes.
As an alternative, Lyft can arrange transportation for Sutter home health providers who support patients with needs ranging from wound care, physical therapy or nutritional support. This arrangement, said Sutter, can help maximize a clinician's time with each patient, while also saving wear and tear that comes with using a personal vehicle for work.
WHAT'S THE IMPACT
Sutter and Lyft were able to test several transportation scenarios through previous pilot work over the course of the past couple of years. This resulted in increased efficiencies, including faster, more reliable pick-ups, lower costs, and an understanding of the unique needs of a healthcare environment.
Reduced wait times were another benefit. At Sutter's California Pacific Medical Center Pacific campus, patients discharged from the emergency department were offered a ride to a location of their choice. In three months' time, the program reduced wait times from an average of 23 minutes to three minutes.
The pilot also achieved a cost savings of about 25% compared to other transportation services that were used previously, and there was greater transportation efficiency: Ambulatory surgery center staff throughout Sutter's Palo Alto Medical Foundation were able to more easily transport staff between care centers than they were in other transportation scenarios.
Sutter said the partnership allows different care sites to customize their rideshare services to best support their communities. For example, in more rural areas where transportation options historically aren't as reliable, patients can count on rides to and from chemotherapy, radiation or dialysis appointments.
In cities, Sutter staff can take a Lyft ride from public transit centers to Sutter care centers as an affordable alternative to parking. This allows Sutter to positively impact social determinants of health – notably, making care more accessible through transportation and increasing opportunities for patients to get the treatment they need.
THE LARGER TREND
As more and more hospitals sign ridesharing agreements with Lyft and Uber, other executives are no doubt watching the trailblazers to see whether or not offering free services to the high number of low-income patients missing medical appointments because of unreliable transportation delivers a return on investment.
But a 2018 study from Penn Medicine researchers published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that offering a free Lyft ride to Medicaid patients for an upcoming medical appointment did not, in fact, reduce the rate of missed appointments. At least it has not thus far.
The study, which included nearly 800 West Philadelphians who were patients with Medicaid at one of two Penn Medicine primary care practices, found that the missed appointment rate for those offered a free Lyft ride and those not offered a ride was virtually the same: 36.5 percent and 36.7 percent, respectively.
ON THE RECORD
"We are reimagining the ways we provide and deliver care, which includes increasing access to services and making them more convenient," said Chris Waugh, chief innovation officer for Sutter Health. "For some, it's not as simple as traveling from Point A to Point B. There are numerous real-world factors in between. Our approach takes the burden away from our patients and staff, and puts them in the best position to receive the care they need or deliver the care they are trained to give."
"At Lyft, we're committed to improving access to care while also increasing operational efficiencies and driving down costs for medical providers," Megan Callahan, VP of Healthcare at Lyft. "Sutter's headquarters in Northern California are home to some of the greatest diversity in the nation – socioeconomic, ethnic and geographic – resulting in an incredibly unique set of transportation challenges for both patients and staff. We're looking forward to a continued partnership that allows us to provide innovative transportation options that make an impact in urban, suburban and rural settings alike. Pilot results have already shown reduced wait times and improved rider experience."