MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota-based medical startup, Hitch Health, is working to fix a common problem for hospitals nationwide. It seeks to help bridge the transportation gap between the estimated 3.6 million Americans who miss non-emergency medical appointments every year because they don’t have a way to get there.

In doing so, Hitch Health partnered with ridesharing company Lyft to offer patients free rides between their home and Minneapolis’s Hennepin Healthcare Clinic.

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“If we can move the needle just a little bit with something like Hitch Health, the rewards are palpable,” said Hitch Health CEO Dr. Chip Truwit.

The pilot launched summer 2017, and since then Truwit says the company has connected patients with 13,000 Lyft rides to and from Hennepin Health.

He says Hitch Health finds eligible patients by getting a list of appointments, stripped of medical information as required by HIPAA, and sends automated texts ahead of those appointments.

At the Hennepin Healthcare Clinic, patients must be low-income, at least 18 years old, English or Spanish-speaking and they must live within a 25-mile radius of the clinic.

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A Lyft driver picks patients up from home, takes them to their appointments, then when patients are done they can text back “Ready” and expect a Lyft ride to arrive within minutes to take them back home.

Thousands of hospitals nationwide have tested this concept, in part to help cut costs down for the hospital. Medical professionals, however, are conflicted on whether it will work.

Penn Medicine conducted a limited study that found this concept did not make a significant decrease on no-shows.

“The Penn study was flawed for a number of reasons,” Truwit said. “They didn’t use an automated system. We use an automated system. We don’t have a phone bank of people making calls, so that’s much reduced on the expense side. Number two, we’ve already demonstrated on a pilot for a year here, we moved the needle 27 percent on no-shows.”

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Truwit estimates that improvement has also helped the bottom line, increasing revenue by approximately $270,000.