Scaling Successfully with NEMT or Patient Transport Services

Jordan Westcott VP Enterprise Solutions, North America

Non-emergency medical transport services (NEMT) offer Taxi, TLC and private hire companies a substantial growth opportunity. But to scale successfully, they need to meet a unique set of challenges that we tackle, step by step, in this blog.

Non-emergency medical transport (NEMT), or as it is known in Europe and the UK, patient or National Health Service (NHS) transport, is a term covering a wide range of different transportation services catered to the needs of health services. Mainly the transportation of passengers who may have difficulties traveling themselves to and from medical facilities.

NEMT caters to varied passenger needs - from simple curb to curb rides taxi operators are familiar with, to operating wheelchair accessible vehicles and providing special care for passengers that need aid getting into and out of the vehicle.

For Taxi, TLC and ride hailing companies, NEMT can be more than just a new revenue stream. Its relatively rigid demand can help strengthen mobility providers' resilience during difficult periods, as witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems like more and more mobility providers are getting involved with NEMT, and that it is becoming a major revenue source for many. 

Successful NEMT relies on optimized planning and real-time re-optimization 

Future route planning
Future route planning

Pre-planned scheduled rides are the backbone of NEMT. Ride requests are distributed to mobility providers ahead of time, and should be optimized for meeting the strict requirements and constraints while maximizing operational efficiency - reducing deadhead mileage and increasing utilization. 

The optimized planning algorithm needs to consider the strict time windows of the pickup and drop-off locations while taking into account future traffic conditions, as well as matching the right vehicle and driver to the passenger’s needs. It also has to meet requirements like the maximum amount of time a passenger can stay in the vehicle, driver shifts and other relevant events. 

All this needs to be computed within minutes and provide an output that dispatchers and drivers can easily understand ahead of time.

Many NEMT services allow and even require rides to be pooled. This adds another level of complexity that the planning and re-optimization algorithms need to take into account. Another complication are “will call” rides, return trips where the pickup in one direction is set, but the pickup for the return is not.  

However, even the best laid plans are subject to change - drivers cancel, get delayed or call in sick, traffic grinds to a halt… In short - life happens. 

Moreover, for operators looking to integrate NEMT services into their regular service, flexibility, and the ability to modify and re-optimize the existing plans to accommodate new rides is crucial.  

The solution lies in combining advanced optimized planning with real-time re-optimization capabilities, together with an advanced dispatching solution, which can provide the flexibility and reliability required. 

Being able to handle a mix of both pre-planned and on-demand (ASAP) rides, across multiple sources, means that as an operator, you can invest in efficient workflows, not in patching manual ad-hoc solutions. 

Providing a great customer experience for NEMT

Optimized, flexible planning creates a positive customer experience with accurate ETAs and a consistent high level of service. 

Providing tools like ride tracking that allow the passenger, their family and the clinic to track live location and provide ETA updates can make this experience smoother. And this information should not require an app, it should be made accessible on a phone’s browser, via SMS or any other channel. 

Making the booking easier through a web interface is also important. A self-serve booking option allows hospitals, clinics and other service providers to book rides easily on their computers, as well as through an app.

Lastly, to operate smoothly, it is important that NEMT providers are able to handle multiple sources for orders. Patient transport providers receive orders in different data formats, including web forms, apps, call centers, PDFs, Excel sheets, CSV files and more. To ensure smooth operations, it is critical for operators to aggregate multiple sources into a unified smart dispatching engine. 

NEMT compliance while lowering costs

It is important to note that many NEMTs are based on long-term contracts with insurance and health care entities (in the UK, in the form of local NHSs) and government agencies. 

These contracts’ service level agreements (SLAs) define the service standards required, and include KPIs such as waiting times, arrival windows, on-time percentages (OTP), etc. The SLAs are contractual commitments, but they are subject to change, and stricter requirements may arise, like the recent Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announcement narrowing the arrival window on their Access A Ride service from 30 to 20 minutes starting September 23.  

If the SLA is not met, a fine may be incurred. On the plus side, providing a reliable high level of service may result in more rides sent your way, contract renewals, and other financial incentives.   

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Leveraging advanced optimized planning and routing capabilities can provide major reductions in operational costs and minimize the time spent on the road with an empty vehicle. It makes it possible to fulfill the demand for scheduled rides at the same time as rides created in real time (ASAP).

Enhance performance using analytics

Real time and historical monitoring capabilities provide data driven insights and allow you to meet business and service KPIs and prove compliance in case of disputes. Most common reports for NEMT providers include driver audits, on-time percentages (OTP), tracking rides, utilization rates, billing, re-optimization tracking and more.

Full visibility into the operation in real time, future plans visualization, and historical reporting, are key to understanding what to improve on, and allows a mobility operator to adapt to changes. 

In-depth reporting on multiple KPIs

Reliability is the name of the game

Expanding a business can come with significant overhead, especially if you think about implementing a new provider. Choosing the right partner that can support you 24/7 and has the ability to re-optimize scheduled planning with smart real-time dispatching is invaluable if you are to meet unpredictable events without huge disruptions and at minimal expenses.  

An optimized solution can not only make sure you meet all the conditions of the SLAs, but also achieve this with fewer vehicles and drivers. The NEMT related capabilities described here can be integrated to an existing dispatching solution or completely replace it.

A well-optimized fleet allows you to do more with less, giving you room to grow when needed as well as cut costs.

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