SC Prison Telemedicine Program to Save Taxpayers Money

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – The South Carolina Department of Corrections has started a telemedicine program for inmates that will save taxpayers money, lower the chances of escapes, and give the inmates better health care. It’s a pilot program between the prison system and the Medical University of South Carolina.

Instead of two or three corrections officers having to drive an inmate to a doctor’s office or hospital, the inmate will stay in the prison and go to the infirmary. There, a camera and TV monitor will connect to a doctor at MUSC. Nurses at the prison will help the doctor examine the inmate, who can see the inmate via a regular TV camera but also through specialized tools that will let the doctor see inside the ear, down the throat, and hear the inmates heart and lungs.

Dr. Edward O’Bryan, one of the MUSC doctors who will be seeing patients via telemedicine, says, “It allows me to see the eardrum better than I could see it if I was looking through that device myself.” That’s because the camera can zoom in and has better resolution than the human eye. The system can also take still photos for closer examination.

Corrections director Bryan Stirling says, “It does save tax dollars by treating these folks inside the institution. It’s supplemental. Some folks will still have to go out, but we can do the initial assessment and decide what treatment is needed, and if they do have to go out they will go out.”

He says besides improving your safety by having fewer inmates outside prison fences while going to doctor visits, it will also improve safety within the prisons, because there will be more corrections officers there instead of transporting inmates.

Taking inmates outside the fences also causes other problems. “When folks go out, there’s always a chance that something bad could happen. They could bring contraband in. We’ve seen how problematic cell phones are. They could bring drugs in,” he says.

Right now it’s just a pilot program in four prisons: Kirkland Reception and Evaluation, Evans Correctional Institution, Turbeville Correctional Institution, and Lee Correctional Institution. But if it’s as successful as expected, it’s likely to be expanded.

The program is also expected to improve care for inmates, which should also save taxpayers money. Stirling says, “If you can catch something early and treat it, it will not be as costly as it would if it lingered.”

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