Texas prisons turn to telemedicine to reduce costs

Telemedicine is not only revolutionizing how people receive healthcare at home, but it also is being used in a wide array of locations--including prisons.

Estelle Prison in Huntsville, Texas, is using telemedicine to connect inmates housed in remote areas with medical experts throughout the state, according to an article in The Dallas Morning News. The state is subcontracting prison healthcare to the University of Texas Medical Branch and Texas Tech University to bring costs down.

However, the arrangement has its share of critics--people who say telemedicine isn't going to save money in a "system plagued with long-standing concerns of poor medical care," according to the article.

Lawsuits have been filed against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice by the Texas Civil Rights Project citing medical negligence, with the legal director of the project, Wayne Krause Yang, saying telehealth could actually hurt the care of inmates.

But Owen Murray, vice president of offender health services at the University of Texas Medical Branch, tells the paper that safety is an issue when transporting prisoners to other clinics, and telemedicine is a good solution to that.

"Prison usually flies below the radar. But now everyone needs to find ways to save money in healthcare and they're looking at us," he says.

Texas is not the only state to use telemedicine in an effort to cut costs. In 2013, Louisiana expanded its use of the tech to treat inmates in an attempt to improve care while facing budget challenges. The state has used telemedicine at prisons since 1997 when it began offering access to specialists in pulmonary, orthopedics, diabetic and dermatology clinics, FierceHealthIT previously reported. Colorado also implemented a telemedicine pilot at its prisons in 2013.

Other states are making use of the technology to help drug and alcohol abusers get the care they need to stay out of prison; South Dakota over the summer received $100,000 to undertake such a program.  

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