Hospitals may be allowed to provide patient transport services to and from nearby physician offices, according to a new HHS' Office of the Inspector General advisory opinion. The OIG was responding to a hospital's question about transporting patients and their families from physician offices near the hospital campus to its acute-care facility in cases where patients are unable to transport themselves. Interestingly, the transportation doesn't have to be long-distance--the facilities at issue are less than a quarter-mile apart.
The opinion acknowledges that the transport services could potentially violate the Anti-Kickback Statue, but OIG officials stated they would not pursue sanctions as a result.
However, there are a few caveats to the policy. The OIG requires that the hospital make the service available to all patients, not just Medicare or Medicaid patients. Also, the hospital must use a "hospital-owned, wheelchair-accessible van containing basic safety equipment," driven by a trained, licensed EMT. The hospital must not use high-dollar transport options like limousines, and only offer the service in a limited local area.
The hospital itself has agreed that while it will alert physicians to the service, it won't advertise the service to patients, and probably will only make it available to about 100 patients per year.
"This advisory opinion is noteworthy in that the OIG has traditionally taken a negative view towards free transportation services marketed to patients such as by ophthalmologists to cataract patients and where patients are transported out of one catchment area to another," Scott Becker, JD, CPA, a partner with McGuireWoods, tells Becker's Hospital Review.