Beyond Telemedicine: Ohio Expands Its Use of Videoconferencing Technologies

By Wilkinson, Reginald A.; Gailium, Michelle | Corrections Today, April 1998 | Go to article overview
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Beyond Telemedicine: Ohio Expands Its Use of Videoconferencing Technologies

Wilkinson, Reginald A., Gailium, Michelle, Corrections Today

Ohio Expands Its Use of Videoconferencing Technologies

Technology has expanded the communications canvas to an almost unfathomable range. Who could have imagined that Alexander Graham Bell's tinny message, "Watson, come here, I need you," presaged such wonders as long-distance direct dialing, satellite communications, e-mail, the Internet and more? And while it's entertaining to indulge in flights of fancy about the future of communications, it's vital to get a firm handle on the uses of technology that are available to us today.

The concept of using advanced telecommunications for medical applications in correctional settings was introduced in Ohio in 1994. Since then, Ohio has had an opportunity to expand its application of the new technology, as well as understand some of the barriers to its effective usage.

Telemedicine Update

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) telemedicine pilot project was launched in 1994, effectively linking the Ohio State University Medical Center (OSUMC) with the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF), Ohio's maximum security prison. The purpose of the program was to replace the transportation of some dangerous offenders via state highways with the transportation of medical information on those offenders via telecommunications links. We also expected to improve on the timeliness and efficiency of health care delivery and save on transportation and overtime costs by eliminating unnecessary round-trip hospital visits.

In just a couple of years, DRC has become a leader in the use of telemedicine, and was listed by Telemedicine Today in August 1997 as having the third largest nonradiological clinical program in the world. Seven prisons now are linked to OSUMC, averaging 225 consultations per month. With more than 4,000 consultations since 1994, we are preparing to extend the network to each of our prisons. Telemedicine has moved from a tentative pilot project to a full-blown medical services management process. While telemedicine may not employ the traditional "hands-on" medical methodology, we have no reason to believe the process isn't equally effective.

The benefits of telemedicine have exceeded all expectations. The reduction in numbers of potentially dangerous offenders in transit has indeed been realized, as has the cost benefit derived by shifting transportation officers and vehicles to other uses. Inmates hoping to angle a free ride to the doctor by faking medical problems have had the magic carpet pulled out from under them. As a bonus, institutional medical staff benefit by increased access to OSUMC's vast medical resources. For example, every Friday at noon, correctional nurses and physicians are invited to participate in live, interactive, fully accredited medical education programs emanating from OSUMC's well-regarded Ohio Medical Education Network Programs (OMEN), which repeatedly have garnered national attention and acclaim. Other sites nationwide access the programs via satellite, but Ohio correctional sites get them over a dedicated T-1 system, right into their clinics.

"When we began using our system, we employed it solely for its original purpose, to have our inmate-patients seen by medical specialists far from our area," says C.J. Kalb, a registered nurse who serves as site coordinator at the Oakwood Correctional Facility (OCF), an acute care, psychiatric hospital/correctional facility in Lima, Ohio. "We soon came to realize the vast capabilities of the technology and began using it for things no one ever dreamed. We, the operators of telemedicine, just now are beginning to see that its capabilities are endless. We have expanded the uses to include complete psychiatric assessments, allowing us to solicit input on difficult cases from experts across the state, as well as for discussing specific cases between two or more psychiatric units."

The use of telemedicine technology is, indeed, expanding.

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Beyond Telemedicine: Ohio Expands Its Use of Videoconferencing Technologies


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