A new medical transportation service is helping a growing number of patients in New Jersey — and elsewhere in the country — to get to and from doctors’ appointments, while also giving healthcare providers new tools to ensure vulnerable patients can safely access the care they need.
A Philadelphia-based startup, Roundtrip, is now working with more than a dozen Garden State hospitals and healthcare systems — from Holy Name Medical Center in Bergen County to Cooper University Health Care facilities in Camden — to arrange car, van or nonemergency ambulance service for patients with limited transportation options. Most recently, the company partnered with the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, a collaborative effort to improve care for some of the most at-risk residents in the region.
Roundtrip, which said it transports hundreds of New Jersey residents every week, also enables individuals anywhere in the state to book medical transportation for themselves, to any provider — by phone, through its website, or via free mobile apps. People can also use the system to arrange a ride for friends or family, regardless of where the patients live or the doctor’s location.
Founded in 2016, Roundtrip is now operating in more than 15 states, including New Jersey, and officials said business has tripled since January. The company wants to make it easier for people to access medical care, reduce the number of missed appointments and improve clinical outcomes — changes that can also reduce the cost of care. It can be particularly useful for patients who need regular and potentially debilitating treatments, like chemotherapy and dialysis, and helps hospitals free up beds when someone is ready to be discharged but lacks safe transportation to get home.
“This is new. It’s revolutionary,” explained Roundtrip founder and CEO Mark Switaj, a Monmouth County native who worked for the nation’s largest medical-transportation broker before launching his own firm two years ago with the goal of radically improving the current system for both patients and providers.
Difficulty finding rides
The new service has been well received at the MD Anderson Cooper Cancer Center, in Camden, Roundtrip’s first provider partner in New Jersey. “As part of our mission to serve, to heal and to educate, our goal is to provide the highest level of care with the best patient experience,” said Christine C. Winn, the institute’s senior vice president. “Often times, patients may have difficulty finding rides after they’ve been discharged from the hospital or following cancer treatments at MD Anderson Cooper. RoundTrip gives our patients another convenient option.”
Nonemergency medical transportation is a growing focus for healthcare experts, part of a rising awareness of the impact social factors like housing, access to public transportation, and poverty have on health and wellness. One study found 3.6 million patients, including nearly 1 million children, miss medical appointments each year because of transportation problems, accounting for some 17 percent of appointment no-shows. (Roundtrip has kept no-shows under 4 percent, Switaj said.)
For years New Jersey has contracted with a national transportation coordinator, LogistiCare, to arrange nonemergency rides for Medicaid patients. Some advocates have raised concerns about this operation, including the issue of missed and delayed rides. And a recent audit by legislative staff questioned the efficacy of the state’s oversight system. A new contract, signed last summer, has triggered a number of reforms, but some lawmakers are seeking additional changes in how the state handles this service.
To introduce new options, the state’s two largest healthcare systems recently contracted with commercial ride-sharing services to help get vulnerable patients to their medical appointments, at no extra out-of-pocket to those involved. These models can be easy and efficient for riders, but also help providers ensure patients will show up at an appointment to get the care they need — which also means that physicians can get reimbursed for the session.
‘We want to make it so stinking easy’
In May, Hackensack Meridian Health announced it had joined forces with Lyft to create the nation’s first centralized “command center” to coordinate transportation to JFK Medical Center, in Edison, and it plans to expand the program to other facilities in its network. RWJBarnabas Health partnered with Uber Health to improve access to Jersey City Medical Center; the effort has been a “resounding success,” RWJBarnabas said this week, and will now be extended system-wide.
Roundtrip takes these services to the next level, according to those involved. Switaj said the tech-based company built its own online booking service and provides patients with a single point of contact for arranging transportation. It then contracts with car drivers — including through Lyft, with which it has a nationwide agreement — and medical transportation companies with wheelchair accessible or ambulance-like vans; it dispatches the appropriate vehicle to meet the patient at the scheduled time.
To smooth the process, Roundtrip sends a notification to the patient 24 hours in advance, reminding them of the arrangement. A few hours before the trip, the company sends another notice with detailed information about the model of the car, driver information, and a phone number to call if there are any questions. The system seeks feedback from each patient after every ride, in an effort to identify problems early and avoid service complaints that are not uncommon under the current Medicaid transportation system.
“Just in that process alone, we’re fixing so many problems,” Switaj said, explaining that most medical transportation systems are set up only to take complaints, not survey all riders on their experience, good or bad. “The system has been reactive. The baseline is reactive. We wanted to make it proactive.”
For the great majority of patients using the system, the cost is covered through contracts Roundtrip has signed with hospital systems, insurance networks, or patient coordinators, like the Camden Coalition, Switaj explained. These providers also have access to the travel data, in return. If the individual has Medicaid, RoundTrip works with LogistiCare in New Jersey to arrange the transportation.
For the few who pay out of pocket, Switaj said the company charges them a small booking fee and the cost of the Lyft service or other ride. In this way, the service is particularly useful for an individual who wants to ensure safe transit for an aging parent without, say, having to take time off from work; it also allows people to coordinate a ride for a loved one in another state, all from their mobile phone.
“We want to make it so stinking easy for everyone,” he added.