THURSDAY, MAY 13, 1999202/307-0703


Justice Department Study Examines Feasibility of Alternative Treatment Protocols

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Health care costs for federal prisoners can be reduced by avoiding the frequent transfer of these individuals to federal medical facilities, particularly if those transfers require air charter. According to a report released today by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), prisons that utilize telemedicine systems instead of conventional in-prison care could save about $102 per patient encounter.

Telemedicine Can Reduce Correctional Health Care Costs: An Evaluation of a Prison Telemedicine Network reports on the feasibility of remote telemedicine consultations in prisons and the estimated financial impact of implementing telemedicine in other prison systems. Four federal prisons participated in the project: the U.S. Penitentiary and the Federal Correctional Institution in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and the Federal Medical Center (a prison health care facility) in Lexington, Kentucky.

"This report provides us with useful information about how prison officials can reduce their health care costs by implementing a telemedicine network," said NIJ Director Jeremy Travis. "Telemedical capabilities offer an alternative to traditional health care to inmates, as well as expanded access to health care providers outside the prison environment."

Medical care in most federal prisons is delivered through four types of providers: routine care offered by prison employees, specialty care provided by in-person clinics contracted by the prisons, hospital care requiring transportation outside the prison to nearby health care facilities, and extensive care requiring transportation by air charter (if necessary) to a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Federal Medical Center.

A fifth method of health care for this demonstration - remote encounters with specialists by telemedicine - was added to determine whether the prisons could use telemedicine to overcome local problems in accessing needed specialists and improve security by avoiding travel outside the prison. Researchers from Abt Associates found that telemedicine was adopted quickly and used frequently. By the end of the demonstration, 1,321 teleconsultations had been conducted. Physicians reported that telemedical consultations were effective substitutes for direct, in-person consultations in some specialties, such as psychiatry and dermatology, but less than adequate in others like cardiology and orthopedics.

The demonstration suggests that telemedicine systems can yield substantial savings when deployed in prisons. The average cost of a telemedicine consultation would be $71, compared to about $173 for conventional care that combines in-prison care with external consultations.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research arm of the Department of Justice, is the primary sponsor of criminal justice research and evaluations of programs to reduce crime.

For additional information about NIJ, the Internet address is General information about the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) is available at

The report is available on the Internet at, or from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) by calling toll-free, 1-800/851-3420.

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NIJ 99-055

After hours contact: Mike McCarthy at 202/305-0779