Infrastructure Week: Panel Discusses Bridging the Gap Between Transportation and Healthcare in the DC Region

May 18, 2018

According to research conducted by the Transportation Research Board’s Transit Cooperative Research Program, 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical care because of transportation related issues. Missed appointments for at-risk populations can result in more severe medical complications and expensive hospital visits. Due to the high cost of emergency medical care, healthcare providers are starting to see the clear link between transportation and missed appointments and how including transportation services in their plans can reduce costs.

Wanting to explore this issue on a local level, the Washington, DC chapter of Young Professionals in Transportation partnered with the American Action Forum for a panel event on May 15, “Removing the Transportation Barriers to Healthcare.” The purpose of the panel, held during Infrastructure Week, was to bring together stakeholders from different transportation sectors and learn about how they are bridging the gap between transportation and healthcare. The panel was composed of:

  • Christian Blake, Director of ADA Policy and Planning for WMATA,
  • Lucas Muller, Transportation Planner at Kimley Horn,
  • Rashi Venkataraman, Executive Director of Prevention and Public Health at America’s Health Insurance Plan, and
  • Jake Swanton, Senior Federal Policy Manager at Lyft.
  • Tara O’Neill, Deputy Director Health Care Policy at the American Action Forum, was the panel’s moderator.

The panel covered a range of topics regarding transportation accessibility to healthcare for those who need the services the most. One of the biggest challenges identified was how you reach and inform people about the existence of these services. Venkataraman said one of the most effective channels is connecting with the patient’s caregiver or family, as they are usually the ones providing transportation to appointments. She went on to say that providing alterative transportation can have a big impact on the productivity of caregivers. Freeing up time spent transporting someone to appointments can allow caregivers to hold down jobs and address other family needs.

Another challenge is getting people comfortable using the different services. Muller, who through his work at Kimly Horn has studied the ways different cities and systems are addressing this link between transportation and healthcare, identified a number of trip training programs. These are programs in which people are provided training on how to use the transit system. This can give someone the ability to make appointments on their own when they don’t have access to a car or someone to drive them. MARTA in Atlanta, Georgia is one such system that has implemented one of these training programs.

The panel ended on the question of how autonomous vehicles (AVs) fit into the issue. There was a range of opinions on the panel. Representing Lyft, Swanton was hopeful about the potential uses of AVs, especially in rural areas where accessibility to transportation is much more of a challenge. Lyft is one of the many ridesharing companies that are researching the possibilities of AVs. Looking at it from the paratransit side, Blake seemed a little more wary. He brought up the question of how people with disabilities would interact with AVs, saying that some of his constituents who use WMATA’s paratransit services need door-to-door assistance, not just curb-to-curb. He wondered how those needs will be met when there is no person driving the vehicle.

Healthcare providers are just beginning to explore how their members experience healthcare services beyond the medical room, and transportation is a major factor that is being integrated into their plans. The transportation community needs to be not just part of the conversation, but a strategic partner at the table helping to find solutions.

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