Want more on-time appointments? Reduce the impact of parking on the overall patient flow

Many hospitals in urban and suburban areas are grappling with parking constraints — trying to figure out how to reduce the burden of parking on not just patients but staff, as well.

In one example, a high-traffic VA hospital in Atlanta was faced with the challenge of having only 550 parking spaces for the 3,000 patients they see each day. At the same hospital, one patient's oxygen ran out while parked in a line of 50+ cars waiting for parking valet services.

Undoubtedly, parking is a sensitive subject for Americans. That's because drivers, on average, spend about 17 hours each year looking for parking, accounting for about $300, on average, in fuel costs. For those driving to the hospital, both trying to find a space and then paying for a space can be a huge source of stress and a negative contributor to the overall patient experience.

Moreover, while many end up being late for their appointments because of parking, others give up entirely and become no-shows — ultimately leading to lost revenue for health systems (no-shows cost the U.S. Healthcare system about $150 Billion every year).

To adapt, some hospitals have increased their parking fees, some have hired hospital valet services and others have even taken steps to expand their parking footprint in order to better accommodate demand. All of these strategies have pros and cons, as well as unintended consequences for patients, employees and oftentimes the community. But there are other ways.

Here are 4 alternative strategies hospitals can use to address parking challenges:

1. Leverage ride-sharing technology for chronically late patients or as a lever to pull when peak demand hits

Health workers can outreach patients who are more likely to either no-show or be late for their appointments, and offer them rides. This strategy works best if care managers have access to a platform that easily allows them to book on-demand and future-scheduled rides for patients. This also works well when patients have access to reliable and convenient rides — using transportation providers like Lyft. In the same way, when parking garage spaces are limited during peak times, hospitals can activate on-demand ride sharing solutions as a strategy to alleviate parking constraints. To do this, It often helps to deploy technology that helps track demand in real-time such as parking sensor technology, where administrators can track parking space availability through a centralized database.

2. Improve drop-off/pickup areas

Since ride-sharing is becoming more prevalent, health systems are beginning to designate areas specifically for the purpose of patient pick-up and drop-off. In doing this, it's crucial to differentiate between ride-sharing lots (like Lyft rides) vs those designated for regular drop-off. The location of a ride-sharing lot/drop off area is equally important. Health systems should ask themselves if a patient in crutches or in a wheelchair can easily get out of the vehicle and into the hospital. Thinking through the transition into and out of care allows health systems to create an optimal drop-off/pickup point for patients based on their unique health needs.

3. Create incentives for hospital staff to use alternative forms of transportation

Health systems can design programs to incentivize workers to walk or take public transportation to work. Whether this happens through wellness reward programs, free subway passes, or free buses from hospitals to major transportation hubs, encouraging alternative employee transportation is a great way to free up parking. Plus, by encouraging employees to walk or take public transit to work, health systems may be able to create demand for nearby housing and local amenities, which can position the health system as a key contributor to integral community development initiatives.

4. Create a transportation benefit for your patient population

Health systems are now starting to realize that on-demand ride ordering platforms can alleviate chronic parking issues. As a result, administrators are taking steps to create transportation benefits for their entire patient populations. A transportation benefit might look like a certain number of NEMT rides per year, an allotted dollar amount, or subsidies for rides. Either way, in order to appropriately manage a transportation benefit, providers need visibility into utilization and spend, as well as control measures in place to protect against abuse. NEMT platforms like Circulation work well with hospital transportation benefits because administrators are able to set cost-controls such as price warnings, maximum distances, and price ceilings. Moreover, health systems have access to real-time analytics and can track benefit utilization at the individual or system-wide level.

Know of another parking strategy that's worked well for health systems? We'd love to hear about it!  Leave a comment below or drop us an email.

Jon is Circulation's Director of Marketing