As federal Medicaid funding fluctuates, states and patients are left searching for innovative alternatives to a multitude of services needed in long-term care facilities. One of those needs is non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT). Created at the inception of Medicaid itself, NEMT provides transportation for medical appointments like dialysis, medical specialists, counseling and more. As appointments and patients’ needs are consistently changing, reliable transportation is an essential part of their lives.

With the emergence of the Affordable Care Act in 2016, federal waivers for Medicaid coverage allowed states the flexibility to determine which services they would fund. As a result, many states have opted to no longer provide these necessary Medicaid transportation services.

According to a study done by Texas A&M Transportation Institute, almost 104 million NEMT trips are taken each year. Combine this high-demand with the lack of reliable funding and a significant transportation problem emerges. However, a solution is on the horizon. A new transportation solution, microtransit, is stepping in to fill the need.

Microtransit is a new category of the transportation industry in which private companies operate mobility services for groups of riders in a community with an emphasis on sharing. For every community, including those in need of NEMT to access healthcare, microtransit could be a solution.

In Columbus, OH, SHARE is a microtransit company creating a reliable, sustainable and economically sound relationship between long-term care facilities and essential medical services. As the CEO of SHARE, I have seen firsthand how access to reliable transportation means access to a better life – better jobs, better schools, better healthcare and an efficient solution to Medicaid NEMT services.

Early adopters to microtransit are discovering how they can reduce costs, increase access and address one of the biggest challenges that seniors and the disabled face as they age in a new, connected world. Seniors and those who are unable to drive are positioned to have a high adoption to new transportation innovations like SHARE, as it allows them to stay mobile and promotes a safe environment.

The microtransit industry is capable of providing those in need of NEMT with a safe, reliable mode of transportation. There are a number of data-driven results that support the positive impact of microtransit. Most drivers are W-2 employees that go through a background check, in-house education, and state regulated training.

For example, at SHARE, drivers are monitored by facial recognition and route tracking technology, which records distracted driving and any harsh events like sharp turns or hard braking. Drivers are incentivized with a scoring system after every route, so the safer the driving, the higher their compensation.  

Microtransit technology not only collects safety data for drivers, it also collects data about transportation needs, pickup and drop-off locations and traffic patterns. For example, SHARE partners with Smart Cities to share data in order for municipalities to make the most educated decisions about their cities’ and citizen’s transportation needs.

For a healthcare transportation service like NEMT, this data could be immensely helpful when examining the needs for seniors. The data can provide details around where seniors are going, what medical services are used most frequently and how driver-rider connections can help combat social isolation.

A microtransit fleet that is backed by technology and data is beneficial to the rider and also their loved ones or caregivers. By putting an emphasis on pre-scheduling rides and gathering information such as pick up location, departure and arrival time, as well as assistance requests (e.g. wheelchair accessibility), microtransit companies are able to create the most time and cost-efficient route. This also helps pair the rider with a driver who is equipped to meet their needs. Loved ones and caregivers are able to receive notifications when the rider has been picked up and when they have been dropped off at their destination safely.

Those in need of NEMT and health care facilities will also see a financial benefit from microtransit. Each year, missed appointments cost the United States over $150 billion. When a patient arrives late to an appointment, this causes scheduling issues that trickle down to the last patient of the day. By utilizing a pre-scheduled service, healthcare providers can count on patients arriving on time to the doorstep of their facilities, eliminating cancellations due to lack of transportation.

Some healthcare facilities have tried to meet these needs by creating their own transportation program. Inevitably, an internally operated transportation program is limited by the number of seats you have and the bandwidth of your transportation coordinator. Many facilities have enough vehicles to support a small demand, but their vehicles are extremely underutilized. Most senior communities only utilize their transportation vehicles five to 10 percent of the time, causing the vehicles to sit idle and deteriorate the other 90 to 95 percent of the time.

Transportation innovations create a new sense of trust for any industry and can have an especially significant impact on NEMT needs. With a company that is entirely focused on providing the best transportation service for riders, you get reliable transportation that is pre-scheduled, driven by professional drivers and backed by technology. Seniors and those with disabilities can access the care they need without stress and can increase the quality of life for themselves and their loved ones.

Ryan McManus is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of SHARE.