Transportation is such a critical social determinant of health. Without it, for many there simply is no participation in key checkups and treatment appointments. It’s also a factor in a person’s levels of socialization and their access to the nutrition they need to stay healthy. NEMT can help with this, but there’s so much more that goes into what constitutes a person’s transportation ability, such as:
- Functional ability
- Issues with behavioral health
- Financial needs of a vehicle (gas, insurance, buying a vehicle, etc.)
- Cognitive ability
Limits on transportation are especially a concern in rural communities where there is less access to public transport—if there’s any at all. According to MDPI, over 20% of Americans live in rural areas, which also have a higher proportion of older adults with chronic conditions. We can’t leave behind a fifth of our community because they’re further out than the rest of us.
NEMT services and NEMT provider technology can help bridge the gap in these areas to a certain degree, but it’s important to look deeper into what can cause issues for rural communities and the impact it has.
The Issues at Hand
According to Ruralhealthinfo.org, a survey about rural vs. urban transportation barriers showed that rural residents experience a higher level of certain kinds of travel complications when trying to access healthcare services. Some of these are exasperated by a travel distance more than twice as long as their urban counterparts. Additionally, travel time may increase by as much as 24 minutes after midnight than urban nighttime trips. Another critical factor is that rural members more commonly need not just transport, but also someone to go with them during their trip. While things like NEMT technology can help overcome certain general travel barriers like eliminating the complications of booking a trip, issues that require a professional need more consideration.
Barriers like these, and having a limited number of options for transport can lead to such issues as:
- Higher healthcare costs
- Treatment disruption
- Increased likelihood of negative health outcomes
- Increased feelings of isolation
- Decrease in overall mental health
- Delayed or dropped appointments
- Decreased accessibility of healthcare
How Can NEMT Help?
Thankfully, our industry can help reduce these issues for rural communities. In an exploratory study of transportation brokerage service implementation in Georgia and Kentucky they saw these improvements:
- Decreased hospital admissions for diabetic adults
- Increased healthcare utilization
- Decreased medical expenses
So, with the help of NEMT brokers and other NEMT professionals, these communities saw improvement just from simple NEMT implementation. But it wouldn’t be hard to take a few extra steps to see further enhancement of these positive changes. Here are some of our suggestions:
- Providing companion services as part of NEMT service offerings, ideally able to be secured at the same time as booking a trip. This way rural populations that have a higher percentage of older adults using their services won’t be stopped up by whether or not a companion is available.
- Raising awareness of NEMT providers and services in the area. In some rural areas, people simply don’t know what resources are available to them in various aspects, especially transportation.
- Going to rural communities and speaking with local leaders about what people in the area need. Not every rural community is the same and when communities feel heard, they’ll be more motivated to work with NEMT brokers and other service providers.
We work in an industry whose core purpose is making sure that those who need care don’t get left behind, so it’s so crucial to find ways that we can bring everyone in, not just communities in convenient spots.