NJ.com- Transportation is one of the largest barriers between a patient and healthcare, which is a problem one hospital in Newark trying to solve.
University Hospital in Newark announced a partnership with Hitch Health on Thursday to provide rides to and from patients’ appointments, in association with the ride-sharing company, Lyft.
Hitch Health, a Minneapolis-based healthcare technology company, is working with Lyft to provide rides to patients with appointments at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the internal medicine wing, or pediatric medicine wing in the Ambulatory Care Center at the hospital.
“We have a lot of patients that have difficulty getting to and from their appointments and this barrier is asymmetrically in our population of [people in] low-income needs, who tend to face a lot of medical conditions,” Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the hospital’s president and CEO, said.
Across the country, more than 3.5 million people lack access to needed medical care because of transportation barriers, with patients missing appointments at rates reaching as high as 30%, the announcement said.
The rides are coordinated through HIPAA-compliant SMS texts, so patients don’t need to have a smartphone or the Lyft app to use the service.
“We took a human-centered design approach to creating the technology," said Hitch Health CEO Sara Russick. "Our technology creates the link between the patient, identifying the patient who needs the ride, and the actual Lyft ride.”
There is no fee to the patient, since the hospital pays a contracted rate to Hitch Health for the service, Elnahal said. He declined to provide an exact number for the service.
“Too often in urban, rural and many communities that face transit-oriented barriers, residents may have complications in urgent travel to the hospitals or clinics," said Ras Baraka, the mayor of Newark. “The partnership of Hitch Health, Lyft and University Hospital looks to solve this problem in a highly innovative way by using cutting edge technology.”
Elnahal said the partnership is proven HIPAA-compliant and patient-centered, since the patient’s medical data is securely protected and the dispatched ride will be able to accommodate any medical needs the patient may have.
The partnership with Hitch Health is part of the hospital’s recently-launched Community Health Program, which is focused on improving access to primary and preventative care services. Not only will the service decrease the number of missed appointments due to transportation issues, Elnahal said, but it will also reduce costs of people utilizing ambulance services.
People with chronic conditions come to the emergency room at much higher rates, he said, since the conditions are not being addressed with care through appointments.
“That’s because transportation can often be the difference between seeing a doctor and going without much needed services—only to find folks at the doorsteps of our emergency room down the road,” he said. “Our community needs more safe and reliable transportation options—and we’re privileged to provide that to them at no cost.”
The service is currently only offered to the three specific departments of the hospital, but there are plans to expand it to other services.
Lyft drivers won’t be able to distinguish a ride arranged by Hitch Health or a normal ride through the app, the announcement said. Patients also have access to the multilingual Hitch Call Center at 1-855-744-0014 for assistance with the service.
“We really hope that it allows patients who have issues with transportation, but more importantly [are] ill enough to really require that they come to their appointments regularly, to benefit from this,” Elnahal said. “It’s an investment we’re making in the health of the community.”
University Hospital is a public medical center and the main teaching hospital of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. It is located at University Heights in Newark.