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Louisiana prisons expand inmate medical care through video conferencing

10-15-2013 Louisiana:

The Louisiana Department of Corrections has drastically expanded an online medical program in which doctors treat prisoners through video conferencing.

The department plans to take the number of offenders treated by telemedicine from 3,500 to 20,000 in the coming year. The shift is part of Gov. Bobby Jindal's push to privatize state-run hospitals and medical clinics. Inmates traditionally received their more advanced or specialized treatment at those charity facilities.

The Department of Corrections provides primary physician care to offenders on site at state prisons. But officials now use video conferencing and other online services when inmates need to see medical specialists, like cardiologists and neurologists.

For example, an inmate who had recovered from a heart attack or cancer, and only needs routine check-ups to monitor their health, could seek treatment through telemedicine.

Dr. Raman Singh, medical director for the Department of Corrections, said telemedicine is supposed to supplement the traditional patient-doctor encounter. Offenders can go off site for doctor visits if needed, but a larger telemedicine program should cut back on the need for many outside medical trips.

Transporting prisoners to a clinic or hospital can be a complicated affair. Offenders require a secure vehicle and guards to accompany them on the journey, and the travel can also take several hours, since state prisons and medical facilities aren't necessarily near each other. In the case of one north Louisiana facility, offenders, had to make a three-hour round trip every time they needed more than very basic medical attention, said Singh.

Singh knows telemedicine works because LSU has been running an online doctor-offender program in south Louisiana facilities for years. Starting this month, Texas-based US Telehealth is providing online medical care to state prisons in central and north Louisiana, helping to cover the state's whole correctional system.

The LSU School of Medicine had wanted to operate the prison contract statewide, but US Telehealth offered a better prices for its services, prompting the Department of Corrections to sign a partial system contract with the company.

US Telehealth has not operated in a prison system prior to the Louisiana contract. Most of the Texas company's experience is in online medical access for people working in remote locations, such as offshore oil and gas rigs.

"Telehealth has been conducted in a lot of traditional settings as well," said Chris Summers, vice president of business development for the company.

US Telehealth employs 1,100 doctors, some of which only work part-time for the technology company while maintaining a more traditional practice. At least 66 percent of those serving Louisiana prisoners will be from inside the state, said Summers. ..Source.. by Julia O'Donoghue, | The Times-Picayune

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