NEWSWIRE: August 25, 2016
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) started its telemedicine program 25 years ago, enabling a few hundred virtual visits between providers and inmates. In 2008, that number was 62,535. Next year, it is expected to hit 160,000.
Electronic health records have changed the game for telehealth in the state’s prison system.
“What really was the catalyst for the growth was finally coupling the telemedicine program with an electronic health records,” says Owen Murray, Vice President of offender health services at the University of Texas Medical Branch Correctional Managed Care. “Prior to that time, with paper records, you’d have to fax some of the medical records down to the provider.”
“We’ve employed our own programmers to kind of ‘correctionalize’ our EHRs to put in what we need,” he continues. “Both for direct patient care at the facilities, but also through telemedicine, so we’ve been able to create our own forms, our own scheduling system – everything that we need to be able to do our work as it relates our offender patients.”
Maintaining enough bandwidth to keep up with all the video and data transmissions is the challenge now. Murray has been working with TDCJ and telecommunication providers to create and improve infrastructure. All video and data transmissions are made via a secure, private network, he added.
Without a telehealth program, TDCJ would have to either transport inmates to doctors’ offices or hire more doctors to go to the prisons. Neither option is simple, Murray said.
“Where some of these facilities are located, there’s no psychiatrist in a 100-mile radius, so how do we get someone there?” he explains. “It was always a struggle trying to figure out solutions.”
He has offered an extra $40,000 per year in pay to attract doctors to rural prisons, but that costs considerably more than a telemedicine encounter.
“Just on the provider end, it saves the state $2.5 million every year with us not having to use physicians,” he said.
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