Transportation Barriers to Healthcare Access

Across the nation, lack of reliable transportation is a barrier to accessing needed healthcare services.

By Jenna Hughes

September 2023- The Journal of Healthcare Contracting

Cities across the nation continue to expand and grow, developing past urban areas into the suburbs and beyond. As urban development expands, traveling farther distances is required to access needed goods and services. When availability and access of public transportation systems does not grow with cities, people do not receive the services they need. Without access to certain services like pharmacies and healthcare, health outcomes suffer.

According to a survey on healthcare access and transportation conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one in five adults without access to a vehicle or public transportation reported skipping necessary healthcare services.

Many communities nationwide face barriers to accessing healthcare services due to limited provider availability, geographic location, socioeconomic status, and lack of insurance. Increasingly, lack of transportation has been a cause of adults choosing to forgo needed healthcare.

Access to transportation in the United States is a social driver of health. Many individuals, especially in urban areas, rely on public transit as their main form of transportation. Without access to a vehicle or reliable public transportation systems, patients are often unable to travel to a doctor’s office and as a result, they do not receive critical health services.

Vehicle access and healthcare barriers

The primary form of transportation in the United States is a vehicle. However, many individuals, such as those that live in urban areas, have low incomes, or rely on public transit, according to the Foundation. Public transit systems include trains, buses, subways, etc., and allow individuals to access portions of the city that are inaccessible on foot.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “Approximately 5% of nonelderly adults did not get needed healthcare in the past 12 months because of difficulty finding transportation, and this experience was more common among adults with low family incomes (14%), adults with disabilities (17%), and adults without access to a vehicle (13%).” The survey found that there is a disproportionate impact among these groups, and adults who do not have health insurance, of not receiving healthcare due to difficulty finding transportation.

Health impacts

Delaying or going without health services is detrimental to an individual’s long-term health. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “Adults without access to a vehicle who reported living in neighborhoods with fair or poor access to public transit were significantly more likely to forgo needed health care because of difficulty finding transportation (21%) compared with their counterparts reporting excellent, very good, or good neighborhood access to public transit (9%).” Investments in public transit may be a key to promoting health equity.

Public transit accessibility is integral to improving health outcomes across the nation. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation calls on policymakers, states, local governments, and other stakeholders to consider transportation barriers when making decisions regarding urban development.

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