At New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex, inmates typically endure hours of onerous travel and waiting just to spend five minutes with a doctor. With the recent introduction of prison telemedicine, the entire experience has transformed; shackles, holding pens, and hurried in-person visits have been replaced by local virtual visits that are long enough for patients to voice their concerns. The result is a win-win situation: Patients are assured of confidentiality while they receive the care they want and need, all from the relative comfort of the prison, while the prison saves untold dollars from eliminating the need for secure transport.
The concept isn’t new. Federal prisons began using telemedicine in the 1990s as a way to provide cost-effective specialty care. State and local jails are slowly embracing the technology despite accounting for over 90% of the costs of corrections in the nation, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
For many facilities, the technology is arriving just in time; the aging prison population across the nation is accompanied by rising demands for inmate healthcare, especially since prisoners tend to be sicker than the general population. Roughly 40% of inmates have at least one serious chronic illness, and they’re more likely to have a hepatitis C infection. All of these health concerns translate to a cost of $2,000 to transport, guard, and treat one prisoner for one day.
At Rikers, virtual visits allow patients to see gasteroenterology, urology, and infectious disease specialists in a relaxed setting while accompanied by a patient navigator. In addition, the project has grown into a thorough intake program that quickly directs patients to telemedicine visits as needed. Made possible by a partnership with NYC Health & Hospitals, the program will soon expand to offer psychiatry and other specialties.
To read more about Rikers’ program, click here.
To learn how swyMed is uniquely positioned to help meet the needs of prison healthcare, click here.