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This Startup Connects Patients With Rides to the Hospital In Rural Communities

by Muriel Vega

For many patients, just getting to their doctor’s appointments is an uphill battle. Medical or cost restrictions may make public transportation and ride sharing not a viable option. Nearly 4 million adults and children with chronic conditions miss or delay medical appointments each year, because they don’t have a ride.

On the other side of the equation, hospitals often have a hard time finding quality transportation partners that are reliable. Many don’t follow instructions or provide a quality of care that meet the standards of the hospital.

Entrepreneur Erica Plybeah saw this gap between the patients and the hospitals firsthand with her own type-2 diabetic grandmother, a double-leg amputee who used a wheelchair for the latter part of her life. Her main transportation was her daughter, Plybeah’s mom, who worked full-time and had a hard time getting her back and forth to doctor appointments. There was no access to other forms of transportation in their small town.

Thanks to almost a decade in clinical IT, Plybeah gained experience finding technical solutions for hospitals and clinics. “As I worked with hospitals more, I’ve learned that transportation and how it affects the health of patients is a huge problem, not just in Memphis but across the country.” According to a new report, 20 percent of a patient’s health is linked directly to medical care, but social and economic factors account for another 40 percent, including nutrition, housing, education and access to transportation.

Plybeah entered a medtech-focused pitch competition and, after hearing the direct feedback from hospital administrators, moved forward with creating cloud-based patient transportation solution MedHaul.

“We’re helping eliminate transportation barriers for patients and poor and rural community. We are a platform that connects hospitals and clinics with quality transportation providers in their communities. We focus on providing rides for any type of patient regardless of their various needs,” says Plybeah.

Currently, hospitals must go through their rolodex of transportation providers, leaving voicemails with each, until one of them is available to book the ride for the patient. The process is inefficient and often leads to sub-par patient care. “Hospitals usually just pick the first one that they see… then on the flip side, the transportation providers don’t have the accurate information because everything was a phone call,” Plybeah says.

With MedHaul, caseworkers and nurses log on to the platform, add a patient’s basic demographics and caregiver information (for example, if they’re in a wheelchair or non-emergency stretcher) and the platform filters the top providers that fit that criteria. The chosen provider picks up the ride through the platform and receives details on the patient and an optimized route.

The hospital, clinic or nursing home can track when the driver is on its way, similar to other ride sharing companies, and the caregiver gets updates from the patient for peace of mind.

To screen providers, MedHaul looks through the Medicaid basic transportation standards in each state and adds a few criteria of their own to make sure they’re on boarding only the top providers in the area. The team makes an on-site visit to inspect the company’s vehicles and meet the staff after they reach out. Pending all approvals and insurance coverage, the provider can be live on the platform within a week.

Hospitals and healthcare agencies pay for access to the patient transportation management platform on a SaaS model. The client buys a specific ride package for a flat fee every month, and refills their rides on a recurring basis.

The startup has two active pilots with Memphis hospitals and two more starting in the next few weeks. They have completed pilots with insurance carriers and emergency agencies as well.

“While there are a couple of competitors across the country, I think what MedHaul does stands out because we’re actually targeting the communities that need this service the most, where transportation and healthcare are not easily accessible,” says Plybeah. According to the National Rural Health Association, 670+ rural hospitals are at risk of closing, making transportation a larger issue in low-income, rural areas.

“My experience in healthcare gives me a unique insight into how you actually create a software solution for a hospital — how it would be implemented, how they use it, and what they would pay for it.”

Ready to build upon her newly-acquired lessons from the Google for Entrepreneurs Black Founders Exchange program, MedHaul is looking to raise additional funding toward the end of this year to scale their operations to additional cities, onboard new providers, and grow the engineering team to refine the platform.

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