By now you must be aware of the many compelling reasons why a non-emergency medical transportation business offers entrepreneurs such a great business model. With the growth in the health care industry and the explosion of baby boomer retirees, this market is big and set to get even bigger still.
In this article we look at how to start a non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT) business. Learn about some of the steps that are involved and some of the aspects of this business that you will have to consider.
Franchise or Independent Operator?
There are now several players offering non-emergency medical transportation franchises. Entrepreneurs benefit with the franchise model as they can operate under an established brand and get advice and training to get started and run a business. However, with the franchise fees that must be paid initially and on an ongoing basis, the upside potential for profit is reduced. If you do your homework, you will find that this business is not that difficult and it is possible to start up and thrive independently.
Choosing the Right Area
Give some thought to the demographics of the area where you are setting up your business. Look for statistics that prove that there are a good number of elderly, disabled or Medicaid citizens living nearby. Compile a list of hospitals, dialysis centers, retirement homes, assisted living centers and other relevant operations. You could even make initial contact with some of these organizations and find out about the transportation solutions that they currently have in place.
Research the Competition
Identify all of the major competitors that you will have in your area and evaluate them in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. You may decide to incorporate parts of their business model into your own business and reject other parts. Learn as much as you can about them by reading their websites and calling their offices to ask questions. You can even spend some time following around some of their vans in order to understand how they work and to find out exactly who their customers are.
Getting Started – Licenses and Permits
Regulations and requirements for medical transportation businesses vary from state to state so you should make enquiries at the local level to find out what your obligations are.
As you are in the business of transporting paying customers from one place to another you will need some kind of permit, just as a taxi driver does. Your application for this kind of license will be handled by transportation authorities at the state or local level. Due to the nature of this work, some states will also require businesses in this industry to be registered with local health authorities.
There may also be other paperwork that needs to be done such as registering your business name, getting a business license (possibly more if you serve multiple counties) and zoning considerations if you run a home business.
Vehicles and Equipment
It is common for medical transportation services to purchase regular vans, either new or used, and then have them fitted out to suit special needs clients. Business owners typically start out with one vehicle and gradually add to their fleet as their business grows.
The best vans for an ambulette have a high raised roof and doorways. Access is usually on the side of the vehicle but can also be at the rear.
Some operators still use manual lifts to help them get wheelchair passengers into and out of their vans. However, you should be able to provide a faster, more professional service if you have a modern hydraulic lift installed.
Once inside the van, wheelchairs can be fastened to various securing devices so that they don’t move around during transit. Vehicles also require customized seatbelts for wheelchair bound passengers. You can also improve the quality of your service if you have some comforts like TV and air conditioning.
A decent sized van that is properly kitted out should be able to transport four wheelchair bound passengers at a time as well as have extra seats available for caregivers. Depending on your clients, you may also need a space in your van that will allow you to fit in a passenger that is confined to a stretcher.
To protect yourself from unforeseen events you will need to purchase a variety of insurance policies. A general liability insurance policy will ensure that you are covered in situations where your customers are injured or suffer losses while they are in your care. You will also need regular automotive insurance to protect yourself in cases where your vehicles are damaged, stolen or involved in traffic accidents.
Decide on how you want to collect payment for your services. You may have to invoice medical institutions on a monthly basis or you may need to process credit card payments for individual clients. If you service large clients like Medicaid then it may be as simple as receiving a check in the mail each month. Talk to some prospective clients and look at what their needs are. Find out what payment options your competitors are offering.
Give some thought to your operating hours. The best ambulette services in the market usually offer weekday service from early morning to late at night with decent hours on Saturdays too. As a sole operator you will be limited in the hours that you can take on. As you expand into a multi-driver operation you will be able to offer more flexible scheduling to clients.
If you start out doing all the driving while also managing your business you will quickly get burnt out. In order to grow you need to step back and hire some drivers so that you can move into a purely management and marketing orientated role.
Staff should have a drivers license that allows them to take passengers and they may also be subject to certain standards or requirements at the local level. No matter what you should make sure that your staff are trained on how to do the practical side of the job. They need to know how to assist passengers and their caregivers as they get in and out of vehicles. They should also be instructed to smile and make pleasant conversation if the opportunity arises so that they help your brand to gain a positive reputation.
There are many different ways to market a non-emergency medical transportation business. For some ideas on markets that you can target read our article on Medical Transportation Business Opportunities.
Initially you will have to go out and meet prospective clients and possibly even bid to try and win contracts. However, if your team are doing a good job then you will find that eventually business will come directly to you through word of mouth and referrals.
You can of course improve your chances of getting calls from private paying clients if you do a little advertising. A website that comes up in the search results when people search for ambulette services in your area can really help. A small Yellow Pages listing will also almost certainly be worth the cost. You can pretty much try any method that other local service businesses are using to promote themselves. Vehicle advertising is great for exposure and flyers, postcards or door hangers may work as well.