Telemedicine coming to SC prison system - FOX Carolina 21

Telemedicine coming to SC prison system

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COLUMBIA, SC (FOX Carolina) -

One of the latest trends in medicine is coming to South Carolina prisons. 

Telemedicine, or the ability to visit a doctor on your phone, tablet or computer, has been implemented by several hospital systems throughout the state. 

Dept. of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said the pilot program in partnership with MUSC in Charleston will allow inmates to get healthcare without leaving prison walls. Under federal law, all prisoners have access to healthcare. 

"We do not have to have two or three or four officers escort folks to doctors' offices or hospitals, they will be treated in the institution," Stirling said. 

Dr. Salvatore Bianco with Primary MD in Greenville used to travel to county jails in Spartanburg, Gaffney and Union. He said some inmates have tried to abuse the health system. 

"People might come in not really requiring medical care," said Dr. Bianco. "It was tough trying to figure out who was there just to get a trip outside the cell or a trip outside the facility."

Cost is also a factor in the decision to implement telemedicine in SC prisons. Corrections officials said in 2011 South Carolina taxpayers spent nearly $3,000 per inmate for their health care. Today, that cost has grown to nearly $4,000 in taxpayer money per inmate per year. 

"We pay in the ballpark of about $80 million a year to treat about 21,000 inmates a year," said Stirling. 

Prison officials said they also hope telemedicine will decrease safety risks associated with transporting inmates to get medical care, including stopping contraband from getting into the prisons.

Dr. Bianco said telemedicine would have made his job easier. 

"Telemedicine would have been helpful to be able to evaluate a patient to see if they were in need of medical care at that particular moment, or if it was something that could wait to be seen," said Bianco. 

The pilot program for telemedicine in prisons begins later this month. 

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