Louisiana expands telemedicine for inmate care

Louisiana is expanding its use of telemedicine to treat inmates in an attempt to improve care while facing budget challenges.

The LSU Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge, where many state inmates had been sent for care, closed in April as the state turned operation of its safety net facilities over to private operators in an effort to avoid severe budget cuts.

"We have completely redesigned the health care system in the Department of Corrections," Deputy Warden Seth Smith at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center at St. Gabriel, told The Advocate. "We have brought specialists to the offender, where physicians physically come here... We do telemedicine for specialists we don't bring on-site."

The state has been using telemedicine at prisons since 1997 when it began offering access to specialists in pulmonary, orthopedics, diabetic and dermatology clinics. Today it offers 17 different clinics, including ear, nose and throat, urology, neurology, gastroenterology, HIV and Hepatitis C.

Four years ago, 1,500 prisoners were treated remotely. That number doubled in the past fiscal year. Smith says telemedicine is safer for the public, since inmates don't have to be transported to appointments, more efficient for the department and the inmates can get in and out more quickly.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has been lauded for its use of telemedicine, and the Colorado Department of Corrections and Denver Health Medical Center have teamed up on such a pilot project involving 19 correctional facilities. They want to lower the risk of prisoner escape and save money by not transporting prisoners offsite.

A statewide EMR in Texas combined with a telemedicine system from the University of Texas Medical Branch and Texas Tech University has been credited with saving taxpayers $1 billion over the past 10 years on inmate healthcare.

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