Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, www.quotecatalog.com

Whether due to long wait times or a lack of after-hour availability, 68 percent of Canadians have missed at least one doctor’s appointment, according to a 2017 Ipsos poll.

Unfortunately, missed appointments can lead to delays in treatment and add costs to the healthcare system.

Last year, Health PEI boosted awareness of the issue by posting publicly the number of missed appointments, as part of an effort to curb the problem.

This isn’t a solution, however, when the root cause is transport, such as older people who are no longer able to drive, or when public transportation options for accessing hospitals and doctors are scarce – especially in rural areas of Canada.

However, there are evolving solutions designed to be more responsive to the changing needs of society.

Missed medical appointments a major issue

In the US, this is also an issue. Nearly 3.6 million Americans miss medical appointments because of a lack of reliable transportation and statistics show one in three patients do not show up to medical appointments every year.

Uber launched a pilot program there in March to lessen the impact of missed medical appointments by older patients. The program, called Uber Health, allows healthcare professionals across the US to request and manage rides for patients and caregivers to clinics and hospitals—even if they don’t have the Uber app or a mobile phone.

“We are excited to launch Uber Health and help remove barriers to care for patients,” says Chris Weber, general manager, Uber Health, adding not only does the service remove obstacles for people who don’t have reliable transport options, but it also helps reduce no-shows for medical appointments. “While we are currently focused on our launch of this service in the United States, we are exploring how and when we can bring Uber Health to markets internationally.”

Transportation companies are looking at improving services for those with disabilities. Photo: Flickr/Creative Commons, Falk Lademann.

Lyft, which operates on a similar model, partnered with Carelinx in late 2016 to provide transportation to older Americans. Unlike a regular cab ride, CareRides provides door-to-door service that includes a licensed caregiver in the vehicle, who can help patients at their medical appointment or go to the pharmacy with them. The service currently undertakes more than four million rides each week, across more than 200 cities in the US. As more than a quarter of Americans aged 65 and older don’t own a smartphone, CareRides can be booked through a desktop computer.

ButterFLi is a start-up out of Los Angeles that provides assisted transportation for older people and those with disabilities to get to doctors’ appointments and hospital visits. ButterFLi supplies wheelchair-accessible vehicles, which are ADA-compliant.

Viable options for patients in Canada

Here in Canada, one solution for tackling missed medical appointments is uberASSIST, which provides door-to-door transportation. While uberASSIST vehicles do not have ramps or lifts, vehicles are equipped to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers and collapsible scooters.

Another solution is a new technology platform called Maple. Rather than going to a physician’s office, Maple offers a video platform that gives Canadians the opportunity to “chat live with a doctor in your pajamas” using a smartphone, tablet or computer. The service is a virtual 24/7 walk-in clinic with access to a certified family physician.

The service is not covered under the Canada Health Act. As a result, Canadians pay $49 for an appointment during the week and $79 on weekends. You can even access a doctor in the middle of the night for $99. Monthly memberships are also available.

With the prevalence of missed appointments and transportation challenges, there is a growing need for more viable ways to connect patients and their healthcare providers. The good news is that there are more solutions in the pipeline, ensuring future access to care for all Canadians.