Telehealth has revolutionized the healthcare sector in many ways, the correctional system included. Automating various healthcare processes and doing them remotely leads to lower costs, reduced waiting time, and more efficient medical services, overall.
Also called electronic health (e-health) or mobile health, telehealth is referred to as the use of digital tools in providing healthcare services, including training and education. Videoconferencing, image sharing, media streaming, and other types of online data exchange, are the most common tools used in telehealth.
When it comes to medical access, inmates may be part of the more vulnerable sector. People deprived of freedom have limited options when it comes to medical care. It doesn’t help that some of them are stuck in solitary confinement. Check this article for additional resources about that subject. However, this may no longer be true thanks to telehealth.
Mobile health can provide a host of benefits for both inmates and jail management staff. After all, taking care of an inmate’s health and well-being results in fewer problems to federal prisons and the state.
Telehealth Increases Inmates’ Access To Health Services
With the pandemic, movement restrictions and face-to-face meetings have been deliberately reduced to prevent the virus from spreading further. For most people, telehealth has been highly beneficial in maintaining healthcare access and sharing medical updates and information.
While there are strict measures in place all over the country, prisons have to implement more stringent health rules to ensure that the virus doesn’t enter and spread. And this may have led to reduced access to medical services among inmates.
With telehealth, however, inmates, especially those with emergency medical needs, will continue to enjoy medical services regardless of major restrictions. It also offers automated ways of enhancing patient engagement. As a result, inmates can receive their much-needed medical services without compromising the health and security of the majority.
- Telehealth Reduces Inmate Healthcare Costs
Even before the pandemic, some jail facilities have been relying on virtual consultations to ensure that healthcare providers, especially mental, psychological, and other specialists remain safe.
More importantly, the overall costs of transporting an inmate to the hospital have drastically reduced, leading to lower per capita healthcare spending on inmates. One concrete example is the state of Texas, which holds the highest number of prisoners in the US. In a 2016 report published on the Pew Charitable Trusts website, the state of Texas attributed the decrease in the average inmate per capita healthcare spending to telehealth, which was only half as compared to the national average spending ($3,807 versus $6,047).
Specific reasons for the reductions are difficult to properly identify, but they may be due to the conventional costs from paying the services of security escorts and other additional manpower, fuel costs, and other expenses. Telehealth may also help prevent specific health conditions from advancing, which may lead to fewer health complications and hospital admissions.
- Telehealth Has Hastened The Provision Of Medical Services In Jails
Telemedicine has revolutionized the healthcare sector in many ways. In the past years, patients with non-emergency cases will have to endure long waits inside the hospital or a clinic. Before they could even secure an appointment, they have to wait for several days or weeks.
As if not enough, most of them will have to travel from remote areas, where state penitentiaries are located, to the urban centers, where most medical facilities lie. This is especially concerning for patients with mental or behavioral issues.
For instance, in New York’s Rikers Island jail facility, where an average of 55,000 new inmates are placed annually, they no longer have to wait for up to eight hours and get stuck in heavy traffic before a doctor meets them.
- Telehealth Has Helped Reduce Security Risks
Security and logistical challenges are the most crucial impediments to an inmate’s access to healthcare outside of prison. There had been incidences of inmates escaping police custody while in the hospital or on the way there. Hence, a scheduled medical check-up would mean the management has to beef up the security to escort a sick or injured inmate.
This may put high-security inmates at risk of delayed access to medical services. With telehealth though, the jail management doesn’t need to take time to iron out logistical and security arrangements to transport high-risk inmates to the medical facility.
- Telehealth Has Made Handling Patients With Issues More Humanely
Inmates have the inherent right to seek medical care and the appropriate follow-up care. But in some cases, they may have to be placed in solitary confinement for serious transgressions.
There’s no major ruling about solitary confinement in jails, but they’re typically used as a form of punishment.
Because of unclear guidelines on its use(s), there were reports of inmates who are either minors, disabled, and pregnant who were placed in isolation for a specific period and for ambiguous reasons, but presumed to be health-related.
If these vulnerable people had been subjected to unreasonable treatment because of their special health needs, then telehealth could be helpful in avoiding this type of practice.
An increasing number of states have acknowledged that solitary confinement in penitentiary facilities would have to be limited and done only in exceptional cases.
Telehealth Leads To Better Diagnostic Care For Inmates
Like the rest of the population, prisoners can also avail of the advances in healthcare technology. For instance, telehealth has allowed healthcare specialists to exchange information faster than before. When in doubt, a doctor can always discuss with a colleague or specialist about a medical case, in line with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), though.
With secure data sharing tools, physicians can discuss a patient’s diagnosis and treatment in a clearer manner. Since the process is done digitally, it also cuts the time spend for in-person meetings between these busy healthcare professionals.
- Telehealth Addresses Medical Staff Shortages
There is an ideal number of medical personnel in federal prisons, depending on the needs of a specific facility. The Bureau of Prisons is responsible for classifying prisons by security, medical care, and mental health care levels.
However, the reality is that there’s a dire need for additional healthcare professionals in all settings, perhaps, more so in jail facilities. Because of e-health, the lack of medical staff is no longer a deterrent to inmates’ access to medical care.
Telehealth has been addressing various healthcare-related problems plaguing the general population. When implemented in the correctional facilities, it can help remove a host of obstacles that impede inmates’ timely and overall better healthcare access.