In June, the Colorado Department of Corrections (DoC), in partnership with Denver Health Medical Center, will launch a pilot project designed to treat inmates using telemedicine.
Doctors will start by providing consultations in areas like rheumatology, orthopedics, infectious disease and general surgery. Nineteen correctional facilities will participate in the pilot.
Driving prisoners to the hospital can be costly. Transportation usually happens after hours, which means that the DoC has to pay overtime wages to security officers. Also, prisoners could potentially escape during the trip.
"The program improves accessibility to specialty care, and there’s been some use cases throughout the U.S. about inmates escaping, so this decreases the risk," explained Chris Wells, who is director of health IT architecture for Colorado's Governor's Office of Information Technology.
About 20 years ago, the Colorado DoC tried telemedicine to provide dermatology consultations to inmates. That experiment didn't last because of frequent scheduling conflicts. Prisoners would be set up near video equipment for the consultation, but doctors would run late, sometimes forcing a transport team to wait with the prisoner for hours.
To correct this problem, Denver Health has blocked off time in doctors' schedules during which they will be available for video consultation.
One advantage for Colorado's telemedicine experiment is that both the prisons and Denver Health already have video conferencing technology. Except for a few minor connections upgrades, neither party will incur upfront costs.
The DoC's clinical support services manager, Liz Mestas, told Government Technology that deciding which inmates could be treated via telemedicine and which had to be transported to the hospital would be the biggest obstacle to the success of the program.
"They are going to have to get the medical records first, have their doctors review it and see if the inmate can be seen by telemedicine or if we have to bring them on site," Mestas said.
Currently, the technology only supports HD video conferencing between inmates and doctors, although Wells says that the DoC would like to upgrade the system to transmit diagnostic images and other patient records.
Edited by Rich Steeves