Missed medical appointments are an all-too-common problem for patients dependent on public transit, raising both healthcare risks and costs. Smart Transit to Healthcare, an innovative new approach toward accessibility, is being tested in Worcester. In June, the Smart Transit project received federal support through a $25,000 grant to the Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA) from the Federal Transit Administration’s Rides to Wellness initiative and the National Center for Mobility Management.
The Smart Transit to Healthcare team collaborates with the WRTA, the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission, and other agencies and stakeholders to develop solutions. Led by Moumita Dasgupta, a recent Clark University Ph.D. graduate, the team is developing and applying a database/application/web-based interface to help health services providers optimize patient-transportation efficiency when scheduling appointments, and give patients clear routing and timing information.
The Family Health Center of Worcester has enthusiastically agreed to be the market test site, according to Dasgupta, who is spearheading the software development. “The grant gives us the opportunity primarily to explore the issues patients face regarding transportation to access healthcare, through discussions, focus groups and surveys that would be conducted in parallel with the development of the software interface,” she added.
The Smart Transit to Healthcare team includes, along with Dasgupta: Dianne Bruce, executive director at Edward Street Child Services; Briana Weisgerber, assistant engineer at Fay, Spofford, & Thorndike (Boston); and Yahaira Graxirena, associate planner at the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission.
Dasgupta credits Mary Ellen Blunt, director of the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission, for proposing that her team apply for the grant. “We are collaborating with CMRPC now on this grant and she is always quite enthusiastically supportive of our idea,” Dasgupta said.
The project is a result of nearly one and a half years of work by the team, whose members were selected as Fellows to participate in the national Art of Science Learning program, an initiative funded by a $2.6-million National Science Foundation grant. The purpose of the grant was to explore innovation at the intersection of art, science and learning. The Worcester Incubator, hosted by the EcoTarium, focused on developing novel solutions to the area’s urban transportation challenges.
Dasgupta (MA ’12/Ph.D. ’15) just completed her doctoral research at Clark University in experimental physics, specializing in fluid dynamics. While studying at Clark, she also conducted laboratory and problem-solving sessions for students taking college-level physics courses and volunteered for activities aimed at encouraging physics education among high school students.
“Moumita’s participation in the project illustrates how Clark’s graduate students often gain experience outside their home department and have opportunity to work as part of diverse collaborative teams, across campus and beyond the campus gates,” said Nancy Budwig, associate provost and dean of research, who served on the Art of Science Learning National Advisory Council. “At Clark Moumita has been engaged with externally funded research coming out of a top research lab on campus. It has been thrilling to watch her take full advantage of all that the city of Worcester has had to offer her as well.”
Jack Foley, vice president for government and community affairs and campus services at Clark, served on the Worcester Incubator Advisory Council.
The competitive National Center for Mobility Management grants, totaling $400,000, went to 16 communities. Each grant winner will spend six months developing solutions to address a variety of patient challenges in accessing primary and preventive care, dialysis treatment, behavioral health, and post-hospitalization appointments with technical assistance from NCMM. According to the NCMM, about 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical appointments every year because they lack transportation to health care.
As a part of the grant process, the Smart Transit team and others also took part in a daylong “design thinking” workshop conducted by Carolyn Jeskey, who is the Director of Community Engagement, Community Transportation Association of America.
Dasgupta expressed her passion for Smart Transit to Healthcare and said she plans to remain involved in the project. “The idea has a lot of potential. The team is now working toward creating a prototype for piloting the product with Family Health Center and later with Community Healthlink in Worcester to check its scalability aspect. The Smart Transit project has been a fulfilling experience for me, as it gave me the opportunity to help create a solution that would have a big impact in people’s everyday lives, especially the underserved communities, which is very important for me. “