Protecting prisoners’ access to healthcare isn’t top-of-mind for most people. Yet, framed as a cost-savings issue, you might be more intrigued. Healthcare for inmates is expensive, costing states just below $8 billion in 2011. States with older inmates see even higher costs – associated with more frequent and complex care.1 Prisoners’ healthcare is protected by a court ruling based on the Constitution.2 As more states face budget deficits, the rapidly increasing costs of healthcare threatens to put state budgets in greater turmoil.
One way to lower the cost of healthcare, while protecting prisoners’ rights, is through telemedicine. Comprehensive solutions that cover primary and specialty care would be the most cost-effective. Having to transport patients to and from clinics and hospitals is not cheap. The California's Legislative Analyst's Office estimated that it costs $2,000 to transport, guard, and provide care for a patient for one day! Whereas, a primary care virtual visit with a licensed CareClix physician costs $45 on average.
Last week, Erica Teichert from Modern Healthcare, wrote about the need for telemedicine in prisons. She described how Rikers Island is experimenting with telemedicine for their inmate population.3 Like her, CareClix believes that prisons are an ideal environment for telemedicine, both from a patient outcomes and cost-effectiveness perspective.
The use case for telemedicine in prisons seems common-sense. The cost to transport prisoners to a medical clinic is high and doctors and nurses hesitate to even treat prisoners in-person. Like many healthcare organizations across the country, Rikers Island and other prisons are in the pilot phase. The $650,000 earmarked for telemedicine at Rikers cover 12 doctors and patient coordinators, and they can only treat certain patients, including those with infectious diseases.3 If it wasn’t for telemedicine, that money might only pay for two or three full-time physician FTEs.
Like the general population, prisoners don’t just suffer from one condition. Patients need better and more convenient access for any condition. For example, telemedicine for mental health would also improve physical health outcomes. Better outcomes contribute to fewer hospitalizations and readmissions. Adults in prison have a much higher rate of mental illness than the general population, and those mental illnesses tend to be more severe.4 Ignoring mental health or any other common condition within prisons when developing a telemedicine strategy lessens the potential returns.
Timely access to patient data helps providers make decisions before it’s too late. The right telemedicine solution must include software that allows telemedicine-enabled devices to transmit data seamlessly to any electronic medical record or database. Without the right investment, adoption will be static, and the growth rate of healthcare costs won’t slow down.
The advantages to adopting telemedicine in prisons surpasses patient outcomes and lower healthcare costs. States will have more budget flexibility from the savings, which benefits the tax payers. Building on our success of implementing custom telemedicine solutions for health systems and school districts, CareClix developed a version of our telemedicine suite focused specifically on Prisons and Correctional Facilities. Contact us today to explore piloting CareClix at your organization. Please contact us with any questions or if you are seeking advice on setting up a telemedicine solution.
Thanks to Jeremy Gottlich from Ignyte Group for his support in writing this blog post.