Investors Pump $10.5M Into Circulation for Medical Transport Software

Technology companies are developing a wide array of healthcare products and services that get deployed in hospitals and homes. Few are focused on what happens in between—the ride to and from medical appointments.

Circulation is one of the tech businesses trying to make non-emergency medical transportation more effective and efficient. The company’s software coordinates rides for patients—many of whom are elderly, disabled, or low-income—via Uber and other transportation providers. The software also handles billing, which can be complicated, especially if the patient receives care from multiple healthcare organizations.

Investors think Circulation might be onto something. The Boston-based company today announced it has closed a $10.5 million Series A funding round. That includes $9.5 million in equity funding and $1 million in convertible debt financing, the company says.

The funding round was co-led by Flare Capital Partners and Providence Service Corporation, which owns LogistiCare, a large manager of non-emergency medical transportation programs. Other Circulation backers include LabCorp, Humana, and Boston Children’s Hospital, which helped incubate the startup.

Healthcare logistics might not grab as many tech headlines as, say, data analytics or wearables. But it’s a significant problem: the U.S. government spends about $3 billion annually subsidizing patient transportation, yet an estimated 3.6 million Americans miss medical appointments each year because of transportation issues, Circulation says. That results in significant costs for the healthcare system, in part because it increases the odds that patients will miss a crucial check-up and end up being admitted to a hospital.

Since late last year, Circulation has gone from three clients to around 50 customers, who collectively manage about 1,000 hospitals, clinics, community health centers, and other healthcare facilities nationwide, the company says. Circulation is currently operating at “several hundred” of those facilities, and its software has helped coordinate rides for more than 10,000 patients, Circulation CEO and co-founder Robin Heffernan says.

Robin Heffernan

“We expected it to be a slower ramp-up, but we’ve just had a lot of interest,” she says. “We want to maintain momentum.”

Circulation’s software is also being used to manage the transportation of doctors and other healthcare workers making house calls, Heffernan says. She says her company has ambitions to coordinate deliveries of healthcare goods, too. (More on this in a minute.)

Circulation will invest the new capital in business expansion initiatives, product development, and hiring, Heffernan says. She expects the 15-person team to grow to about 35 by the end of the year.

Currently, non-emergency medical transportation voucher programs typically pay for patient rides in taxis or private shuttle services, and sometimes public buses. But healthcare organizations are increasingly turning to more tech-enabled options like Uber and Lyft.

“You’re beginning to see low-cost, on-demand solutions have an outsized impact on the business of healthcare,” says Michael Greeley, a partner with Flare Capital Partners.

Circulation’s software acts as the connector between the transportation provider and the hospital or clinic. The software accesses patient medical records and securely stores important data—contact information, health insurance, pertinent health information, and so on.

The startup says it enables on-demand rides, but it can also help hospitals schedule rides for patients as far in advance of the appointment as needed. The software books the ride for the patient, choosing the type of vehicle that best suits his or her needs, such as one that is wheelchair accessible.

Circulation has said the benefits of its service include providing patients with a more precise estimated pickup time, and the ability for doctors and transportation coordinators to track rides in real time via a software dashboard.

“Hospitals have perfected moving somebody from the second to the third floor” of their facilities, Greeley says. “They have no visibility of the patient … outside their four walls. Now, this is giving them important visibility into the last-mile issue—getting [patients] into the hospital.”

Not surprisingly, Circulation says its approach is working for its customers: patients are missing fewer appointments, they’re more satisfied with their transportation experience, and ride costs are declining. The cost savings mainly come from increased efficiency and the fact that Uber rides are generally cheaper than taxis and other options, Heffernan says. (Circulation also coordinates rides in non-emergency ambulances and other vehicles owned by healthcare organizations and other groups, Heffernan says.)

But Circulation doesn’t just want to help move patients around. It’s also helping to transport caregivers to patients’ homes for medical visits, including doctors, nurses, phlebotomists, and social workers, according to a company spokesperson. Home healthcare is more convenient for patients, but it can also help caregivers be more productive because they can knock out paperwork and other administrative tasks while riding in the vehicle between patient visits, Heffernan says.

Circulation also intends to help deliver goods, such as prescription medications, durable medical equipment, and meals, Heffernan says. She declined to share more details. But the overall goal is for Circulation to become “a broad-based platform for all healthcare logistics,” she says.

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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