If patients can’t manage on their own, clinicians and staff can help them use social support networks and other resources to find transportation to their appointments. Virtual visits can also be considered.
In our city of Baltimore, one in three people lack access to a car, so going to the doctor isn’t always easy, nor is public transportation always a reliable option. A 2021 report, co-authored by Johns Hopkins University and the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, found low-income Baltimoreans of color face the highest level of transit-related inequity in the city, and frequently experience longer commute times and inefficient public transit.
As clinicians, we witness firsthand how transportation is a social determinant of health, and how transportation barriers adversely impact health outcomes for vulnerable populations. While there’s no simple solution, here are some interventions and resources we should consider:
1. Many patients have limited social support or are often reluctant to ask their family for assistance. Ask the patient if they have any family, friends, neighbors, or community/faith-based groups who can help with transportation. If so, encourage them to reach out to these supports.
3. Many insurance companies have a transportation benefit built into their plans; encourage patients to reach out to find out if theirs does.
4. Many states have something like MobilityLink, a shared ride service available to people who are unable to take public transit due to disability.
5. If your patient is enrolled in Medicaid, find an organization, like Baltimore City Medical Assistance, that offers free transportation to those with Medicaid who have no other means of transportation.
6. The American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery is a free volunteer-based program that transports patients to and from cancer-related appointments.
7. Find an organization that offers rides to older patients. CountyRide provides transportation to medical appointments for Baltimore County residents 60 and older and those with disabilities.
8. Explore your healthcare organizations’ home-based primary care services—such as Johns Hopkins’ JHOME—when appropriate.
9. And finally, encourage patients to take advantage of virtual visit options.
There’s no quick fix, but empowering patients to utilize their social support networks, available resources, and using home-based and virtual options when possible are all first steps in connecting patients to care.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.