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Health + Tech | Healthcare transportation using technology

Published:Sunday | May 5, 2019 | 12:00 AMDoug Halsall

Jamaica has an excellent cadre of skilled professionals in emergency and general medical care. However, over the years, we continue to face significant problems with attaining an acceptable transportation system for emergency and non-emergency care.

Over and over, we hear complaints about the lack of ambulances to serve communities. Many Jamaicans would tell you that it makes no sense to call an ambulance from the public sector. More often than not, none is available and private ambulances come at a relatively high cost.

In fact, in a 2016 letter to the editor of The Gleaner titled ‘Costly ambulance ride’, a disgruntled visitor outlined a cost of between US$395 and US$2,000 for ambulance service in one instance. The average Jamaican will never be able to afford this.

In recent years, access to, and development of, technology in various spheres has been greatly expanded. This includes transportation apps mainly targeted at the taxi subsector. How can we leverage this to improve healthcare?

Already Uber and Lyft are beginning to sink their toes in the healthcare waters. At this year’s Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference held in Orlando, Florida, in February, both companies were showcasing an aspect of their business that concentrates on partnerships with hospitals and their patients. For those not aware, Uber and Lyft are two of the more popular ride-sharing apps in the United States and they have been expanding to other countries.

Lyft introduced ‘Lyft Concierge’, the arm of the business that partners with healthcare organisations to provide and manage rides for patients. It has a relatively simple ecosystem involving providers to whom the company facilitates non-emergency medical transportation, including to pharmacy; payers (insurance companies) as part of patient coverage, and the technology provider to facilitate quick and easy data sharing and billing.

SCHEDULE MANAGEMENT

Uber Health has a similar layout and also offers schedule management for patients through a web-based dashboard that provides reminders and details of rides to include variables such as wheelchair accessibility and additional assistance, where required.

In the last couple of years, we have had a few local ride-sharing apps emerging that can be leveraged in a similar way, especially given the deficiencies in our transportation system and the difficulties in getting a ride via ambulance for both emergencies and non-emergencies. This opens up a niche market in which healthcare transportation, through the use of technology, can thrive. I know of such plans for at least one rideshare app in Jamaica – Get There Jamaica.

I do believe that given the increase in the use of technology in health in Jamaica, albeit a little slow-going, we can seamlessly integrate such a service in our existing health ecosystem.

Many times, aside from requiring ambulance service for health emergencies, it is also required to transport non-emergency patients to and from testing facilities or between hospitals for further care. With the shortage of ambulance service already to deal with emergencies, this can be a perfect solution.

The transportation platform can work with the existing electronic registration system for scheduling purposes for patients. The University Hospital of the West Indies, which is almost fully digital, could be the first testing ground for such a system. Insurance providers can see this as new business and perhaps charge the employer/employee a small add-on fee to include this service in their coverage.

Apart from transportation to health facilities, the platform can also be used as a means of delivery for prescriptions. Again, the HIMSS at UHWI can facilitate e-prescriptions once that is approved by the Pharmacy Council, but even before then, prescriptions are already being electronically sent to pharmacies. Patients who are incapacitated or simply would find it more convenient to have their medication delivered could also use this as a means to do so.

It is clear that the healthcare sector is rapidly expanding with technology at the core of that expansion. I have seen more and more companies that have not traditionally been involved in healthcare, now grappling for a piece of the pie because opportunities continue to be created with the introduction of new technology.

- Doug Halsall is chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and doug.halsall@gmail.com.