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03/31/2005 - INHS TeleHealth Reaches County Jail

Inland Northwest Health Services (INHS) is a global pioneer of TeleHealth services. Their Northwest TeleHealth network offers interactive video conferencing to more than fifty-five hospitals and clinics in Washington State. The network includes services such as dermatology consultation to the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla, and the Coyote Ridge facility at Connell, Washington. Now, entering a new area of remote health services, they are conducting a ninety day pilot project with Sacred Heart Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry and the Spokane County Jail. The project is to determine whether the telehealth network can be used ease the financial burden placed on the taxpayer by the cost of medications needed by the inmate population.

It has been estimated that at least 40% of the nearly 700 inmates in the Spokane County Jail have either been diagnosed with mental illness or display psychiatric symptoms. Of those, 75 - 85% are on multiple medications, and at least half of that percentage are on psychotropic medications. The bottom line drug cost is more than $43,000 per month.

The jail has one lone nurse practitioner assigned to mental health prisoners. If the inmate needs the attention of a physician, the corrections system must absorb the additional cost of armed guards for transport to the emergency room, and the cost of treatment there. Not only is the current system expensive, the mentally ill inmate’s special needs may not be adequately addressed. By combining INHS TeleHealth capability with the expert resources of Sacred Heart’s Psychiatry Department, it is hoped that the Jail will be able to more effectively treat the mentally ill inmate.

The way it works is this: first the clinical staff at the Jail will identify inmates requiring psychiatric consultation services for medication review and behavorial management. During the 90-day pilot, the video conferencing equipment used for arraignments at the jail will connect with video conferencing facilities at Sacred Heart. Sacred Heart’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lior Givon, will conduct a live interview via video conference, and review records to evaluate the inmate’s medication and behavioral plans. The intent is to discontinue medications that are counter-therapeutic, redundant, and/or prescribed incorrectly. Dr. Givon also will target a prescribed minimum level of medication to achieve the best results. Beyond straightening out the medications, Givon also hopes to help inmates design behavioral treatment plans with goals that can be achieved during the time of incarceration.

The first two weeks of the 90-day pilot have already shown much promise. If, on completion, the TeleHealth network has again proven itself, other medical services may be added. Other medical specialty possibilities include neurology and dermatology.

INHS is a non-profit corporation sponsored by Spokane’s hospitals to provide collaborative health care services. INHS companies include St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, Community Health Education and resources (CHER), Children’s Miracle Network, Northwest TeleHealth, Information Resource Management, and Northwest MedStar. For more information, visit www.inhs.org.

Billie Moreland
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