RideAustin to offer low-income patients free rides to doctor’s appointments

Low-income and uninsured patients will be provided with transportation to and from medical appointments and pharmacies

FILE - Doctor's office (KXAN Photo)
FILE - Doctor's office (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Community Care Collaborative and Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin are partnering with RideAustin to provide free rides for low-income patients who have trouble affording transportation to and from medical appointments and pharmacies.

“When we talk with our patients, we hear that inadequate transportation is often a barrier to accessing health care,” said Sarah Cook, CCC’s Director of Integrated Delivery System Strategy and Planning.

Cook says often, when patients can’t get to and from primary care and specialist appointments, preventable medical issues progress, and they end up making trips to the emergency room, costing taxpayers.

“It is easier for us to subsidize transportation to a primary care provider than to pay for an emergency department visit,” Cook said. “Furthermore, it is much better for the patient to get the continuity of care that you get with a primary care provider, rather than going to the hospital when it’s not always medically indicated or it could have been avoided.”

The pilot program will launch in August and will be funded by a $50,000 grant from Capital Metro. The Design Institute at the Dell Medical School is handling the logistics of how the program will work and who will qualify.

“The dysfunction of our health care system affects everyone, but especially the most vulnerable,” said co-founder of the Design Institute of Health Beto Lopez. “We are addressing this transportation challenge by first understanding the needs, lives and desires of the people we are trying to serve — in part by exploring why existing voucher programs fall short for many of Travis County’s most vulnerable patients.”

Lopez says although the program will use RideAustin’s app, it will function somewhat differently than a normal app-based ride sharing service. The program may potentially offer a call service as well, for those low-income patients who can’t use the app.

“Some people have challenges in terms of having the right kind of cell phone coverage, even having a smart phone,” Lopez said. “A lot of people still have flip phones, and so really understanding the basic needs of how people communicate and how people would call for a ride is a really important step to really thinking differently about bringing this ride-hailing service.”

The program will start by serving around 50 patients with the greatest need for transportation, all of whom are participants in the Seton Healthcare Family-Central Health non-profit Community Care Collaborative’s Medical Access Program. Those initially chosen to participate may not have any other means of transportation or face unique challenges with using other forms of transportation like buses or the metro. Organizers say once the program is up and running, more patients will have the opportunity to participate.

“One of our goals when starting RideAustin was to make transportation and ride-share services more accessible to areas of the community that are currently underserved by traditional mobility services,” said RideAustin CEO Andy Tryba. “We’re proud to partner with the CCC and Dell Medical School to leverage our on-demand platform and help members of the Austin community get to and from doctor’s visits.”

Tryba says this ride sharing pilot is the start of a different direction for his company. After major ride share companies Uber and Lyft began operating again in Austin, RideAustin has lost a lot of business. Tryba says he’s looking into working with other programs similar to this pilot to take his non-profit ride share in a different direction.

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