A Ride Home: Improving Patient Transportation

In 2021, Connie Amos, senior director of post-acute care at OHSU, sponsored an M.S. capstone team to explore improving patient transportation. Lack of reliable transportation to and from clinic visits and hospitalizations creates challenges for patients and healthcare providers. Patients may not receive care because they cannot physically get to their visit, and delays can put patients in unsafe situations after their visit. From the organization’s perspective, a lack of coordination results in transportation companies fielding requests with little understanding of priority or urgency. Already busy ambulatory clinics attempt to help by arranging and monitoring patient transport between their other duties. For hospital units, delays in transportation mean that they are unable to accept new patients who are waiting for beds. Tiffany Aoyama, one of the student team members, remembers learning so clearly during the project that “Developing a solution for nonemergent medical transportation is a challenging issue in healthcare and intensified by a lack of industry best practices and standardization. Often, the most vulnerable populations face extraordinary barriers in receiving nonemergent but necessary medical care.” The capstone team sought to understand the root cause and develop solutions OHSU could implement.  

After multiple stakeholder interviews, data analysis, and review of other models, the student team presented compelling findings to their sponsor and senior OHSU leaders including the chief operating officer, senior associate chief medical officer, and nursing directors and managers.  Tiffany described how she “was inspired by many OHSU stakeholders who were dedicated to finding creative solutions in cooperation with other community and transportation partners.” Of their recommendations, one was to create a centralized transportation center. This captured the attention of the leaders. Eight months later, the center officially launched on February 1, 2022. The transportation specialists prioritize and schedule transportation for patients in need seven days a week. Within the first month, this new service reduced discharge delays and helped patients travel as far as Northern California. Furthermore, the new program is being led by M.S. ‘20 graduate Jenny Ross. 

While working toward making long-term improvements in healthcare delivery, the student team honed their knowledge of complex systems and developed their confidence to solve large problems. Team member Melissa Wong shared, “The Capstone project gave me a view into the complexities and challenges of creating a new program in a large organization. Knowing that some pieces of our proposal struck a chord with leadership and helped to drive an improvement in service to our patients has been very validating. Our research, effort, and time made a real difference!”