Telecare Soapbox: What is telehealth doing in prison?

The reference to telehealth with prisoners in the Independent article [TA item] prompted editor Steve to search around for more information on this overlooked topic and this is the best of what he found. (Part of the reason it is overlooked may be that most of the available information is in documents and presentations, and not easily accessible on web pages.)

High in both the UK and US Google searches for prison telehealth comes the January 2002 presentation by Ron Emerson, Director, Maine Telemedicine Services of HealthWays, entitled Telehealth in Corrections. (PowerPoint file.) His reasons for the advantages of telehealth/telemedicine with prisoners still hold good:

  • No reimbursement issues. Prison or jail contracts for the services
  • Decreased security risk by keeping the inmate inside the facility
  • High cost of transportation
  • Reluctance of providers to allow inmates in their practice
  • Large geographic distance between correctional facilities. Specialist providers can provide services to anywhere in the system from one location
  • Increased access and timeliness to specialty services

A useful 2009 round-up Telemedicine: Lessons From State Prison on the TS-Si (site concerning issues for transsexual people) mentions 27 states using telemedicine systems with prisoners, including Arizona, which is considered one of the leaders.

What’s been happening in the UK?

A year ago, the Scottish Centre for Telehealth was considering two prison-related projects, but nothing has been heard of them since. (Word doc – search for ‘prison’.)

There is the work being done by the Airedale NHS Trust, mentioned in the Independent. According to a November 2009 presentation in PDF format by the quoted Dr Richard Pope, the trust is providing a service in emergency and out-patient consultations to 8 prisons across the UK.

And finally, there is the work being done in North East England by The North East Offender Health Commissioning Unit, part of NHS County Durham And Darlington (two PCTs working together) which has just won an NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement 2010 award.

The service uses technology and skills provided by HomeTelehealth Limited, which has a case study downloadable from this webpage.

[Disclosure: HomeTelehealth Ltd has been a Telecare Aware advertiser.]

Categories: Soapbox.