This article reports on a demonstration project that assessed the effectiveness of a correctional telemedicine network, which can be broadly defined as the use of telecommunications technologies to provide medical information and services.
A telemedicine network usually consists of a network of remote sites from which patients are presented for treatment via telecommunications to physicians located at a hub site. The demonstration project showed that telemedicine can be established within a prison environment and be widely favored by officials and inmates. Telemedicine consultations were effective substitutes for direct, in-person consultations in some specialties, particularly psychiatry. It also improved the quality of care for offenders, including the time between referral and consultation, the availability of various medical specialists, and access to doctors with more experience in the treatment of inmates. Cost savings from such a program are most likely to result when frequent, individual transfers via air charter are avoided and in-prison consultations are replaced by telemedicine consultations. Cost saving from the replacement of trips to near-by medical facilities were more modest. As a result of the positive results of the demonstration project, the Joint Program Steering Group (JPSG) has expanded the project and will demonstrate the viability of telemedicine in jails. In addition, the National Institute of Justice is testing videoconferencing technology for crime-scene investigators and medical examiners as part of its Forensics Program.