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How to Start a Medical-Courier Business
Being a medical courier can be an exciting, fulfilling job for the right person. This profession entails picking up and delivering medical materials that are often biohazardous or otherwise fragile from offices, hospitals and laboratories. Those with a keen interest in medical terminology will likely find the job particularly rewarding. Individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit and the right skill set may consider starting their own medical courier business to provide clients with this specialized service.
Job Description and Standard Daily Tasks
A medical courier is a professional that typically works directly with medical or healthcare facilities and laboratories to deliver and collect medical supplies, lab materials, prescription drugs, blood and organs, and other healthcare-related items, such as oxygen tanks, surgical equipment, medical records and hazardous materials. Medical couriers may transport these supplies to and from medical offices, labs, hospitals, patients' homes and other healthcare facilities, in addition to a host of other duties.
Typical day-to-day medical courier responsibilities include, but aren't limited to:
- Preparing and packaging items ready for transportation, ensuring that all documentation is accurate.
- Transporting medical items, such as testing supplies, laboratories specimens and body organs to the healthcare facility.
- Adhering to strict biohazardous safety precautions and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) regulations and accurately counting and taking inventory of medical items to be delivered.
- Receiving medical items from a healthcare facility and ensuring that those items are securely stored in the delivery vehicle.
Medical couriers may receive their schedule of deliveries upon arrival at work each day or in a dispatch method. Alternately, they may have a daily circuit to follow. They may work full time or part time, and part-time couriers may be expected to be on call.
Administrative Duties and Patient Care
Medical couriers are also responsible for patient care and certain administrative duties. They're often tasked with filling out detailed logs and inventories for each of their deliveries, restocking medical and lab supplies and calculating costs and order volumes. Those who have their own medical courier businesses can expect to have additional administrative duties, such as sending invoices to clients, obtaining a general liability policy to cover losses and incidents, and obtaining a commercial auto insurance policy that covers all drivers and vehicles. Additional insurance policies may be necessary, as well.
In terms of patient care, medical couriers are often those individuals tasked with keeping people safe and healthy when they use the equipment. Couriers must be comfortable going into patients' homes, setting up the equipment, teaching patients how to use the equipment and closely monitoring patients to ensure correct use. Patient care is one of the most crucial parts of the job.
Medical couriers are not required to obtain a bachelor's degree or pursue medical courier certification, although a high school diploma is typically a requirement. With that being said, a college degree in the medical field or a medical terminology certificate are both advantageous pursuits and are worth having for those seriously interested in the field. A medical degree or certificate can enhance your professional skills and help you to better understand medical terminology. This is a big asset in the medical courier industry since you can expect to interact with nurses, physicians and lab technicians on a regular basis.
To become a medical courier, you must also have current HIPAA certification. Aspiring couriers can opt to take a short-term course with an organization like Integrity Medical Courier Testing, which offers training sessions and personalized recommendations for storage coolers, line-haul procedures and other materials. This is a great endeavor for those starting their own medical courier businesses who want to ensure that their employees are well-trained.
A medical courier should also have a valid driver's license and a clean driving record, in addition to having firsthand, intimate knowledge of the region's road network. If a courier doesn't know an area well, she should at least have a superior ability to read maps or navigation systems, as driving and navigating are a huge part of the job.
Often, the medical samples or healthcare supplies being collected and delivered are crucial for a patient's health. Because of this, medical couriers are expected to be highly organized, detail-oriented individuals. They must also be skilled drivers with excellent navigational skills, as even minor vehicle accidents could spell disaster for the hazardous materials and medical samples being transported.
Medical couriers should also possess above-average communication and interpersonal skills, and be reliable, professional individuals. They should be able to be counted on to deliver supplies in a timely manner and to work comfortably under tight deadlines to ensure the safe transportation of potentially dangerous materials. Medical couriers should be able to work under pressure, respond efficiently and effectively to urgent situations and be able to work independently and also as part of a team.
In addition, because medical couriers have to transport items that are often bulky or heavy, it's important to be in decent physical shape. The job can be physically challenging, and couriers should be able to lift packages of at least 30 pounds. In terms of physical condition, couriers should also have excellent eyesight and be able to concentrate and to sit still for long periods of time.
Being a medical courier is different from working for or owning a standard courier company. The vehicles and equipment are specialized, allowing for the safe transportation of hazardous materials and fragile medical supplies. Medical couriers may work for a variety of employers, such as hospitals; doctors' offices; medical research facilities, laboratories or other healthcare facilities. Some medical couriers work for laboratory courier services that are contracted for courier work by healthcare facilities.
Medical couriers with their own businesses likely have their own physical office space, where they perform all necessary administrative tasks in addition to transporting supplies. Those who choose to start their own business are typically in contact with a local network of physicians' offices, laboratories, pharmacies, medical supply businesses, hospitals and other skilled care facilities.
Years' of Experience and Salary
Although there is no data available specifically for medical couriers, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does offer salary and employment information for couriers and messengers in general. According to the BLS, couriers and messengers earned an annual median salary of $30,620 in 2018. This means that half of all workers in this occupation earned more than this, while the other half made less. The mean hourly wage was estimated to be $14.72.
Medical courier service rates vary widely by state and industry. The BLS breakdown of employment and wage information for couriers and messengers is:
- Local Messengers and Local Delivery: 12,510 employees nationwide; annual salary of $29,960.
- Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories: 9,740 employees nationwide; annual salary of $31,680.
- Couriers and Express Delivery Services: 9,410 employees nationwide; annual salary of $31,640.
- Legal Services: 5,700 employees nationwide; annual salary of $27,670.
- General Medical and Surgical Hospitals: 5,510 employees nationwide; annual salary of $30,180.
Job Growth Trend
Again, in terms of job opportunities, there isn't specific information available regarding medical couriers. According to the BLS, the top-paying industries within the general courier and messenger occupation are the postal service; local government; elementary and secondary schools; foundation, structure and building exterior contractors; and scientific research and development services.
The states with the highest employment level in this occupation, in 2018, were California, New York, Texas, Florida and Pennsylvania in that order. The BLS estimates that the projected percent change in employment from 2016 to 2026 will be 4 percent. This is lower than the national average for all occupations, which is estimated to be 7 percent. However, the job growth for the medical field, in general, is projected to grow faster than the average rate through 2026.
It's safe to say that as long as the need to transport biohazardous medical materials exists, the need for medical couriers will exist. In fact, many hospitals and healthcare clinics do not have the facilities to perform certain tests, which is why they need samples to be transported to specialized laboratories. Those who opt to start their own medical courier business should enjoy steady employment and ample job opportunities.
Starting a Medical Courier Business
Those interested in starting their own medical courier business or medical delivery business should first work as a medical or lab courier for a number of months, in order to gain insider knowledge of the profession. The logistics involved in the delivery of medical equipment can be convoluted, so it helps to have intimate knowledge of how everything works before striking out on your own.
If you're just starting to look into owning a medical delivery business, you should enroll your drivers in a specialized course like the one offered by Integrity Medical Courier Training, so they'll know how to handle biohazardous materials and maintain a safe environment. This will make your service look infinitely more attractive to potential clients and set you apart from the crowd.
Medical courier entrepreneurs should also look into contacting and connecting with nonprofit organizations that provide services for elderly and disabled people; national organizations that specialize in medical delivery; nursing homes; skilled care facilities; laboratories; pharmacies; and local hospitals to seek out clients. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask for referrals as you begin to secure clients.
Your clients will have certain expectations of you, so it can help to know what those are. Some of them include:
- Careful, timely delivery. The supplies you and your drivers will be transporting will likely require extra-special care. As a courier service, you should ensure that you have the proper vehicles and equipment necessary to transport biohazardous medical supplies safely and efficiently. Prepare to be able to express a detailed transportation plan to your clients. And, prepare to deliver everything on time, no matter what – a patient's life could be in danger, after all.
- Insurance. Obtaining insurance should be one of your top priorities as a medical courier business. You will need a commercial auto insurance policy that covers all your drivers and vehicles, a courier insurance policy that covers the costs if medical supplies are lost, damaged or stolen during transit and a general liability policy. Any reputable courier service has the proper insurance policies, so be sure to research these and acquire all the necessary paperwork.
- Client confidentiality. And finally, client confidentiality is key. As any experienced medical courier business knows, it's essential that a courier service knows and understands that a client's information is sensitive. All employees should understand this. It's a good idea for business owners to carry out background checks on delivery people and other employees, just to be on the safe side. A medical courier is expected to abide by a certain code of ethics, just as any other medical professional would.
- Stay up to date with OSHA and HIPAA regulations.
- Check your state requirements for any additional laws or standards regulating handling of medical specimens.
- Make sure appropriate warning labels are used on all transport equipment.
- Failure to follow instructions such as "STAT" delivery from the medical provider could result in a patient's relapse or death.
- Failure to follow "specimen integrity" can also pose problems for a doctor or patient. Maintain temperature settings as required by the originating provider.
Justine Harrington is a writer based in Austin, Texas. Her work has been published in Forbes, USA Today, Fodor's, American Way, Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, Texas Highways, Austin Monthly, and dozens of other print and online publications.