The United States currently spends an estimated $3.5 trillion annually on healthcare (CMS), nearly twice the amount of other developed nations (Health System Tracker). The sad truth? Our health outcomes aren’t living up to their billing. This reality is chiefly because our healthcare system has yet to move beyond a “sick care” system where providers often only intervene after you become ill or sustain an injury. And while this approach to treatment will always be necessary, many patients could avoid illnesses and diseases if they received preventive, or proactive care.
Like many things when it comes to healthcare, transportation is also frequently a reactionary solution. We often talk about transportation as a barrier to care in the clinical setting, and how cutting down on missed appointments can help increase patient flow to create better health outcomes. But what if we could shift the way we view transportation to focus more on preventive health and less on care events? In other words, how can transportation move the dial from reactive care to preventive health, and create a healthier world?
Because transportation has a broader application than healthcare, we must begin by expanding “access to care” beyond the feasibility of getting to a healthcare setting. Transportation empowers people to live holistically healthy lives, and transportation barriers are a far-reaching public health issue and are frequently interrelated with other challenges. For instance, someone who may have transportation difficulties getting to a grocery store may also be suffering from food insecurity. Improving someone’s ability to access the grocery store is as essential to someone’s health as reaching the doctor’s office. Consider the following quote from a study conducted by the American Hospital Association:
Transportation connects people from their origin to their destination, affects land use and shapes our daily lives. Transportation is necessary to access goods, services, and activities such as emergency services, health care, adequate food and clothing, education, employment, and social activities. Because transportation touches many aspects of a person’s life, adequate and reliable transportation services are fundamental to healthy communities.
(Health Research & Educational Trust, pp. 6)
The ability to access things that keep us happy, healthy, and engaged is a critical aspect of preventive care. We rely on transportation to travel to work, childcare, school, places of worship, recreation, green spaces, and other social gatherings. Transportation barriers can affect someone’s health while also determining what they may be able to do about it.
Ultimately, addressing widespread transportation barriers puts us on a path toward preventive care and better overall health outcomes and create a healthier world. As a public health challenge, transportation barriers are complicated, especially as it pertains to urban and rural health. To begin solving this challenge in our country, we know that it will take a massively combined effort to ensure that our communities have the resources to access what helps us live healthier lives.