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Medically Necessary: Rideshare companies angle for a bigger piece of the health care supply chain

This is an excerpt from the March 25, 2021 edition of Medically Necessary, a health care supply chain newsletterSubscribe here.

Good afternoon. Medically Necessary is a newsletter by Matt Blois about the health care supply chain — how we get drugs, devices and medical supplies to health care providers and patients.

Rideshare companies angle for a bigger piece of the health care supply chain

A driver for the non-emergency medical transportation company Veyo helps a patient get to a doctor’s appointment. (Credit: Veyo)

New opportunity: Rideshare companies and medical transportation providers are aiming to become a bigger part of the health care supply chain as care moves from traditional health care settings to patients’ homes. 

  • The pandemic has expanded the use of tools like telehealth and remote patient monitoring devices, which allow doctors to track patients’ vital signs from afar. 

That could require some changes to the supply chain. Patients may need medical devices, prescriptions or even basic care to complement telemedicine appointments. Transportation companies say they can help.

Adapting: The pandemic initially cut ride volume in half for the non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) provider Veyo, but it also forced the company to reconsider how it operates.

  • Non-emergency medical transportation companies bring patients to doctors’ offices, dialysis treatments or other critical, but not necessarily urgent, medical appointments. 
  • Veyo aims to combine health care expertise with the tech savviness of rideshare companies.

When ride volume plummeted, Veyo started using its idle drivers to deliver food to seniors through Meals on Wheels. CEO Josh Komenda said the experience showed him the company is a powerful logistics network capable of delivering products to patients. 

The growth of telemedicine could reduce the number of trips for NEMT providers, but Komenda is hoping Veyo can still be a part of the supply chain serving patients who use telehealth.

  • “I think that some of the larger NEMT players like Veyo are going to diversify and really be a backbone, or logistics engine, to support emerging health care delivery models,” he told FreightWaves.

That could mean delivering remote monitoring devices to patients and helping set them up. In some cases, that might mean training drivers to provide basic clinical services to complement telehealth appointments.

  • “If there’s one positive silver lining to the pandemic, it sort of forced a valuable reconsideration of our delivery models,” Komenda said. “I think that in the next five years Veyo and others are figuring out how we reach people and deliver health care throughout the community, not just in brick-and-mortar traditional buildings.”

In essence, delivering supplies to patients is simply the reverse of Veyo’s core business.

In the news: On Wednesday, Uber announced that it is expanding its prescription drug delivery program.

Now, Uber is partnering with Scriptdrop, a company that allows pharmacies to send drugs to patients. Scriptdrop’s customers will be able to use Uber’s technology to summon a driver and quickly deliver prescriptions to patients. In many cases Uber will be the default option.

  • Independent pharmacies will also be able to use Uber drivers to deliver medications, according to an Uber blog post.

Uber’s prescription delivery will be available in 37 states in the U.S., and the plan is to expand further.

  • “This past year has shown us now more than ever that pharmacies need more effective ways to get patients the prescriptions they need,” ScriptDrop CEO Amanda Epp said, according to the blog post.

Riding the wave: Uber’s move builds on momentum for delivering drugs or health care to patients at home.

Amazon opened its online pharmacy in November. Since then, other online pharmacy competitors have scrambled to stake out their territories or expand, according to a report from STAT.

  • Online pharmacies deliver prescriptions through the mail, which can take time. Non-emergency medical transportation companies and rideshare companies can go one step further, delivering to a patient’s doorstep on demand.   

In March, Vanderbilt University Medical Center launched a business that delivers durable medical equipment, such as oxygen tents and blood sugar meters, to patients’ homes.

  • “When a clinician deems that home equipment or supplies are required, and a patient chooses us to provide the service, we’ll ensure continuity of care no matter where the patient is,” Vanderbilt Chief Supply Chain Officer Teresa Dail said, according to a press release.

Continued growth: The pandemic has opened up some new opportunities, but Komenda said he expects Veyo’s core business of bringing patients to in-person care to grow as well.

  • “Across the board we see a pretty bright future in this area,” he said.

Insurers are expanding coverage of non-emergency medical transportation because it can help patients and reduce costs for payers, he said. (Patients are healthier and require less expensive care if they can consistently get to medical appointments.) In addition, many providers are using non-emergency transport, even if an insurer won’t cover it, to reduce the cost of patient no-shows.

  • “The overall story of NEMT is that it continues to grow by leaps and bounds,” Komenda said.

Rideshare companies Uber and Lyft see the same opportunities. Over the past two years, the non-emergency medical transportation arms of both companies have integrated their services into electronic health records systems to make them easier to use.

Johnson & Johnson in a sprint to the finish to meet supply goal

Photo finish: The rollout of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine got off to a slow start, but the company indicated it could produce the promised 20 million doses by the end of March. With only a few days left in the month, it may be hard to hit that target.

  • So far, the CDC has delivered only 4.7 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. About 2.6 million Johnson & Johnson shots have been administered.
  • The federal government hopes to send out about 4 million doses of the vaccine next week, according to Politico.

A Johnson & Johnson spokesperson told Roll Call it still expects to hit that target. White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt said the company should come close, according to Bloomberg.

Second wind: This week, the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency approval to a manufacturing facility producing Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, according to Bloomberg. That should immediately free up millions of extra doses.

An unnamed source told Bloomberg that the Bloomington facility will account for the majority of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply in March, which would change the picture considerably.

  • The FDA is still considering an application for emergency approval from Emergent, another contract manufacturer helping to produce Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, according to a report from Politico

Johnson & Johnson has promised to provide the U.S. with 200 million doses. The federal government expects to receive the first 100 million by the end of June.

Reading list: The best stories about the health care supply chain

  • Colleges Turn Arenas to Mass Vaccination Sites for Students Bloomberg
  • Americans at military bases overseas struggle to get COVID-19 vaccine Roll Call
  • Cardinal Health, FourKites Target Deeper View of Medical Supply Chain The Wall Street Journal
  • Behind the scenes, companies helping big Covid-19 vaccine makers are getting rich STAT

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Matt Blois