AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog

Lock-Up, A New Market Niche for Telemedicine

Since Telemedicine first came on the scene more than a decade ago, the one market segment touted to be receiving the greatest benefit has been the rural community and their need for specialized medical disciplines.  Even now that the benefits are being realized across all geographic areas, the increased availability of specialist and chronic medical services to those in far flung outposts continue to be credited with the most obvious benefits.

But a new market niche is developing for telemedical services that may have escaped notice by those who first championed the positive features of telecommunication technology for the delivery of healthcare.  Employing telemedicine in correctional facilities is emerging as a new market segment, giving states and local jurisdictions the ability to get health consultation and treatment to inmates without the cost of securely transporting them to medical facilities.  Implementing telemedicine at correctional facilities has been a little deliberate and slow to take effect, but as the prison population grows and the costs associated with housing inmates become more of burden on tax payers at large, telemedicine is finding its way into places of confinement and behind the bars.  In addition, prisoners are aging and are becoming more susceptible to chronic, age related illnesses, increasing the need for more frequent ongoing medical services and treatment, many of which require physicians who practice more specialized disciplines that may not be readily available to a confined population.

This month, the Colorado Department of Corrections and the Denver Health Medical Center will launch a pilot program using high-definition video conferencing for inmates who need consultations in rheumatology, infectious disease, orthopedics and general surgery and because both Denver Health and the Colorado Department of Corrections have modern video conferencing systems, there are no up-front costs associated with the program for either party, which has been cited as a barrier to entry for smaller hospitals and prisons.

In Wyoming, telehealth services for prison inmates helps address challenges of distance and distribution of doctors. The Wyoming department of Prison Health Services has been able to dramatically increase the range of clinical services, including mental health and specialist services and in Louisiana they are on the verge of signing a contract to provide 17,000 annual checkups to thousands of inmates, increasing telemedicine by nearly 600 percent. Deputy Secretary Thomas Bickham said the department was caught slightly off guard when Earl K. Long Medical Center closed last month, seven months sooner than originally expected requiring state officials to expedite the process of providing new telemedical services to its inmates.

Department of Corrections is planning on awarding an increased number of contracts for telemedicine services, exploding the expenditures from $600,000 annually to more than 3.5 million.

Bickham said public safety is the primary benefit of utilizing telemedicine services rather than individual hospital visits.  “In the past, we would have to load them up, transport them to the closest LSU hospital, have them see that physician, then transport them back. What telemedicine allows us to do is to keep that inmate behind the fences at the institution. It allows us to get the same medical treatment at the same cost, and do it more efficiently and effectively, but most importantly it’s very protective of public safety because again you’re leaving the prisoner behind the walls in order to get treatment,” Bickham said.

The restrictive confines of lock-up facilities places an increased burden on costs and significantly complicates access to health care well beyond the inconvenience and expense that most free, rural patients experience, so it seems a logical migration for telemedicine to reach those who are even more isolated and entrapped by geography.

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