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Why Correctional Care Facilities Need Online Health Records

December 20, 2011

Running a prison is not inexpensive.   A 2011 Financial Times article reported that states spend $50 billion a year on correctional facilities—the second largest expense the second-largest expense, right behind Medicaid.  In that article, findings revealed it costs more than $44,000 per year to incarcerate a person in California—equal to spending a year, including room and board, at Harvard.

It’s important for prison officials to do everything possible to save money.  One approach is to implement electronic health records and do away with the old-fashioned pen-and-paper system. Electronic health records save states money and assists in enabling better care for inmates.

First, consider the cost savings. According to a report by CIO|Insight magazine, a study of 14 medical practices found it took an average of two-and-a-half years to recoup the costs of transitioning patient health records from a paper-based to an electronic system. Once the pay-back period ended, the practices enjoyed $23,000 in annual savings, mostly from increased efficiency and reduced staff hours.

In a 2010 report, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections noted a significant savings of both time and money from its adoption of electronic health records.

For instance, when patients were transferred from one detention facility to another, at the same time someone had to physically transfer the health records. Today, prison officials log onto their computers to access a patient’s medical history, including prescribed medications, treatments and allergies or illness. In the past, medical personnel would attach sticky notes to a paper file, inevitably misread or lost in the chain of hands. Today, medical personnel simply update the patient information in the prison computer system.

Rhode Island’s experience proves that switching to electronic health records can save prisons not only significant money annually, but also improve the medical care provided to inmates.

In a recent story, the website Corrections.com, praised the Obama administration’s decision to invest $10 billion over a five-year period — ending in 2013 –  to move U.S. healthcare to an electronic-based system, citing the positive impact electronic systems could have on U.S. prisons.

The story pointed to a study published in 2005 by the RAND Health Corporation.. The study found that electronic health records could result in savings by reducing redundant health care, making patient treatment more efficient, boosting patient safety and keeping patients healthier longer.

Consider how this would work in a prison system. With electronic health records, prison physicians would reduce the potential of prescribing errors and would make it more difficult for patients to abuse addictive drugs.  By improving inmate care, physicians could generate significant annual treatment cost savings.

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About the Author

Irene Froehlich

Ms. Froehlich has been with DrFirst since its inception in 2000. In her role as Director of Marketing, she oversees the planning, directing, and coordinating all marketing and public relations efforts at DrFirst. Ms. Froehlich has a B.S. in Communications from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

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