Grad’s startup connects patients with better access to medical transportation

Ankit Mathur is co-founder and chief technology officer of RoundTrip, a startup that connects peo...
Ankit Mathur is co-founder and chief technology officer of RoundTrip, a startup that connects people to reliable medical transportation while reducing wait times, insurance headaches and extra expenses. (Photo by Jud Froelich, Development and Alumni Relations)

Ankit Mathur wants to get you to the doctor. In particular, he wants everyone to have transportation to the doctor.

The three-time Virginia Commonwealth University graduate has devoted his career to building software systems and improving inefficiencies. Mathur, 37, is co-founder and chief technology officer of RoundTrip, a startup with offices in Richmond and Philadelphia that connects people to reliable medical transportation while reducing wait times, insurance headaches and extra expense.

For people with transportation barriers, doctor and hospital visits can present all kinds of problems. For example, Mathur said if a patient doesn’t have a ride readily available when being discharged from the hospital, the care coordinator or care manager picks up the phone to coordinate a ride and figure out whether it can be paid for by Medicaid or other coverage. In the meantime, the patient is waiting and the hospital’s resources are tied up.

“When you see patients who are waiting hours for getting rides back home, when you see clinicians spending half of their day on the phone coordinating rides instead of health care, you think that there has to be a solution out there for this,” Mathur said.

He learned about these issues in 2016 from his current business partner, Mark Switaj, CEO of RoundTrip. Switaj had worked for large emergency and nonemergency medical transportation companies and was concerned about how problems with the usual approach, such as long wait times when one contracted company can’t provide a vehicle immediately, could affect patients’ health. He wanted to start a company to address those issues, but needed help designing the product. A mutual friend connected him with Mathur.

Mathur and Mark Switaj, CEO of RoundTrip, first connected in 2016. “I knew I could get behind someone who was so passionate about fixing transportation for health care,” Mathur said. (Photo by Jud Froelich, Development and Alumni Relations)
Mathur and Mark Switaj, CEO of RoundTrip, first connected in 2016. “I knew I could get behind someone who was so passionate about fixing transportation for health care,” Mathur said. (Photo by Jud Froelich, Development and Alumni Relations)

“I knew I could get behind someone who was so passionate about fixing transportation for health care,” Mathur said.

“Seeing how inefficient our health care system is in this country really sparked me to want to make some sort of a difference,” he added.

While transportation is a small part of the overall system, Mathur said, it has an impact on how well people are able to take care of their health. A 2014 study, “Traveling Toward Disease: Transportation Barriers to Health Care Access,” published in the Journal of Community Health, surveyed 61 studies on the problem of transportation and concluded that, especially for those with lower incomes or those who lack adequate insurance, problems with transportation are an important barrier that can prevent people from accessing needed health care.

The authors of the study found that ethnic minorities often had less access to the transportation they needed for health care, even after taking income into account. Transportation issues translated to problems such as lack of regular medical care, missed appointments and a lack of ability to follow doctors’ instructions, such as by keeping up with prescriptions.

RoundTrip addresses the problem with software that handles many logistics automatically and seamlessly. When a care manager or patient logs in, RoundTrip figures out if special needs dictate what sort of ride is needed, whether the ride can be paid for by insurance, and how to surmount what Mathur calls “the last 100 feet,” which refers to the difficulties of navigating medical complexes so that drivers and patients actually find one another. The software is compliant with privacy laws concerning the protection of patient data.

Ankit Mathur wants to get you to the doctor. In particular, he wants everyone to have transportation to the doctor.

Through partnerships with medical transportation companies, ride-sharing company Lyft and public-transit authorities such as the Greater Richmond Transit Co., RoundTrip’s system is designed to connect a patient with a ride in 90 seconds or less. Though the patient still must wait for the ride to arrive, by having access to multiple providers, RoundTrip’s software keeps that wait shorter than it might be otherwise. Rides can be scheduled in advance or arranged as needed. Through RoundTrip’s partnership with GRTC, Richmond-area residents with disabilities also can use the software to access transportation in general, such as for rides to work.

RoundTrip currently serves 16 states. Mary Faith Cressman, a medical social worker at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware, said the system works.

“RoundTrip was able to get an ambulance for one of my families from Nemours in Wilmington, Delaware, all the way to Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital so this kiddo could have a transplant,” Cressman said. “The Pittsburgh trip would have taken a significantly longer time if I had to pick up the phone and call multiple providers.”

To make the service work, Mathur not only has to integrate a variety of technological systems, but also take on the many roles a small startup requires. Aside from the work he does to design a software platform that can automatically interface with the software used by insurance companies, transportation providers and health care providers, Mathur looks at financial models, examines product requirements, researches what RoundTrip’s users need and more.

He said he finds it exciting and compares the work to his time as an undergraduate at VCU. He was a B student and knew he needed to work a little harder to stand out. He went to VCU Career Services, where they helped him find internships. At one point during his senior year, he worked with the city of Richmond, the state and two companies, all at the same time.

“Having four jobs at once, simultaneously, while going to school full time, really set me up for success,” Mathur said with a laugh.

Now Mathur is focused on continuing to build RoundTrip. The company recently announced a deal to provide transportation for the largest research hospital in America, the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. And earlier this year, VCU Health collaborated with RoundTrip to launch a comprehensive transportation program for patients.

“We’re excited to partner together with RoundTrip and expand access to a strong network of transportation providers in the Richmond area,” said Ryan Raisig, director of care coordination at VCU Health. “Our partnership will provide greater insight into transportation utilization overall and will give us real-time insight into the supply and demand of transportation across all of our facilities.”

In the future, Mathur said, the company might partner directly with insurance companies, which could offer transportation benefits in an effort to encourage patients to seek care earlier and avoid the larger health problems that arise from going untreated.

Mathur said he wants to focus on “real-world problems,” such as transportation, that could make a real difference in health care.

“I believe that a healthier society will elevate the lifestyle for all people in our country, not just some,” he said.