by Erica Naone
Ankit Mathur (B.S.’03/B; M.B.A.’12/B; M.S.’13/B) wants to get you to the doctor. In particular, he wants everyone to have transportation to the doctor.
A three-time Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus who’s devoted his career to building software systems and improving inefficiencies, Mathur, 37, is co-founder and chief technology officer of RoundTrip, a startup that connects people to reliable medical transportation while reducing wait times, insurance headaches and extra expenses.
For people with transportation barriers, doctor and hospital visits can present all kinds of problems. For example, Mathur describes what some patients go through to leave the hospital and get home after outpatient surgery or after being discharged from a longer stay. If the person doesn’t have a ride readily available, he says, the care coordinator or care manager picks up the phone to coordinate a ride for them and figure out whether it can be paid for by Medicaid or other coverage. In the meantime, the patient is waiting and the hospital’s resources are being tied up.
“When you see patients who are waiting hours for getting rides back home, when you see clinicians spending half of their day on the phone coordinating rides instead of health care, you think that there has to be a solution out there for this,” Mathur says.
He learned about these issues in 2016 from his current business partner, Mark Switaj, who is CEO of RoundTrip. Switaj had worked for large emergency and nonemergency medical transportation companies and was concerned about how problems with the usual approach, such as long wait times when one contracted company can’t provide a vehicle immediately, could damage patients’ health. He wanted to start a company to address these issues, but needed help designing the product. A mutual friend connected him with Mathur. “I knew I could get behind someone who was so passionate about fixing transportation for health care,” Mathur says.
“Seeing how inefficient our health care system is in this country really sparked me to want to make some sort of a difference,” he adds. While transportation is a small corner of the overall system, Mathur says that it has an impact on how well people are able to take care of their health.
Research backs up his claim. A 2014 study, “Traveling Toward Disease: Transportation Barriers to Health Care Access,” published in the Journal of Community Health, surveyed 61 studies on the problem of transportation and concluded that, especially for those with lower incomes or those who lack adequate insurance, problems with transportation are an important barrier that can prevent people from accessing needed health care. The authors found that ethnic minorities often had less access to the transportation they needed for health care, even after taking income into account. Transportation issues translated to problems such as lack of regular medical care, missed appointments and the lack of ability to follow doctors’ instructions, such as by keeping up with prescriptions.
RoundTrip addresses the problem with software that handles many logistics automatically and seamlessly. When a care manager or patient logs in, RoundTrip figures out whether that patient has special needs that dictate what sort of ride is needed, whether the ride can be paid for by insurance and how to surmount what Mathur calls “the last 100 feet,” which refers to the difficulties of navigating medical complexes so that drivers and patients actually find one another. The software is HIPAA-compliant, which means it follows laws concerning the protection of patient data.
Through partnerships with medical transportation companies, ride-sharing company Lyft and public transit authorities such as the Greater Richmond Transit Co., RoundTrip’s system is designed to connect a patient with a ride in 90 seconds or less. Though the patient still needs to wait for the ride to arrive, by having access to multiple providers, RoundTrip’s software keeps that wait shorter than it might otherwise be. Rides can be scheduled in advance or arranged in the moment. Through RoundTrip’s partnership with GRTC, people in the Richmond area with disabilities can also use the software to access transportation in general, such as rides to work.
RoundTrip currently serves 16 states and has two offices, one in Richmond, Virginia, and one in Philadelphia.
Mary Faith Cressman, a medical social worker at Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children, one of RoundTrip’s clients, says the system works. “RoundTrip was able to get an ambulance for one of my families from Nemours in Wilmington, Delaware, all the way to Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital so this kiddo could have a transplant,” Cressman says. “The Pittsburgh trip would have taken a significantly longer time if I had to pick up the phone and call multiple providers.”
To make the service work, Mathur not only has to integrate a variety of technological systems, but he also has to take on the many roles a small startup requires. “The first hour of my day, I’m focused on one thing, but the next hour, I’m focused on something completely different,” he says. Aside from the work he does to design a software platform that can automatically interface with the various software used by insurance companies, transportation providers and health care providers, Mathur looks at financial models, examines product requirements, researches what RoundTrip’s users need and more.
He says he finds it exciting to take on so many roles at once and compares the work to his time as an undergraduate at VCU. He says he was a B student and knew he needed to work a little harder to stand out. He went to VCU Career Services, where they helped him find internships. At one point during his senior year, he worked with the city of Richmond, the commonwealth of Virginia and two companies, all at the same time. “Having four jobs at once, simultaneously, while going to school full time, really set me up for success,” Mathur says with a laugh.
Now, Mathur is focused on continuing to build RoundTrip. The company recently announced a deal to provide transportation for the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, the largest research hospital in America.
Earlier this year, VCU Health partnered with RoundTrip to launch a new comprehensive transportation program for patients. The partnership eases the coordination of transportation for patients with an eye toward decreasing missed appointments and improving overall patient satisfaction for all VCU facilities.
“We’re excited to partner together with RoundTrip and expand access to a strong network of transportation providers in the Richmond area,” says Ryan Raisig (B.S.’03/B; M.H.A.’08/HP), director of care coordination at VCU Health. “Our partnership will provide greater insight into transportation utilization overall and will give us real-time insight into the supply and demand of transportation across all of our facilities.”
In the future, Mathur says, the company might partner directly with insurance companies, which could offer transportation benefits in an effort to encourage patients to seek care earlier and avoid the larger health problems that arise from patients going untreated.
While the biggest issues to tackle in U.S. health care are often debated in the media, Mathur wants to focus on “real-world problems” such as transportation that could make a real difference. “I believe that a healthier society will elevate the lifestyle for all people in our country, not just some,” he says.