How telemedicine benefits patients in prison

The benefits of telemedicine use at prisons is two-fold: It helps to lower healthcare costs and also gives inmates better access to care, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In Texas, a very large chunk of prisoner healthcare is handled by the University of Texas Medical Branch. According to Owen Murray, UTMB's vice president of correctional managed care, using telemedicine is helping to keep prisoner health spending down.

There are about 127,000 telemedicine consultations a year conducted by UTMB with inmates, the report adds. Many of the visits are for primary care or mental health. All five state prisons in Wyoming also have telemedicine equipment onsite, and conduct 440 total telemedicine visits a year. 

Oftentimes, a nurse or aide at the prison helps patients to conduct virtual visits with primary care providers. Other times, the PCP may be at the hospital, but will use telemedicine to consult a specialist at another hospital.

However, telemedicine isn't always the best solution, and it's important for physicians to visit patients in person, as well, Marc Stern, a former assistant secretary for health services for the Washington State Department of Corrections, says in the article.

"You have to get a flavor for how a prison operates, what is the food like, what is the noise level, how attentive is the staff, how high or low are the bunks," Stern says. "Occasionally, you have to walk through in order to understand that peculiar environment."

In addition, prisons face many of the same obstacles when it comes to telemedicine use as the rest of the healthcare industry, including challenges like a lack of high-speed broadband connections and state licensure barriers.

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