CONTACT: C. LINDON LARSON
283 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-9569; fax (319) 335-8034
UI launches telemedicine project with Department of Corrections
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- For residents of Iowa's prisons, an appointment with
a University of Iowa doctor may no longer mean a trip to Iowa City. Some
inmates soon will receive health care services via a two-way video system
that permits long-distance consultations with medical staff and patients
at remote sites.
The collaborative project involves faculty and staff at the UI College
of Medicine, the UI Hospitals and Clinics, and the Iowa Department of Corrections.
Teleconsultations will begin March 4 with the Iowa Medical and Classifications
Center at Oakdale, and the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. The
project may expand to other institutions once researchers have evaluated
its initial phase.
Transporting prisoners to the UIHC requires considerable time and expense,
as each inmate must be supervised by a correctional officer. In fiscal
year 1996, there were 4,356 trips to the UIHC from the state's prison facilities.
A single trip from Fort Madison costs as much as $400.
"We hope this technology will reduce the number of off-site visits
to the UIHC," says Dr. Paul Loeffelholz, medical director for the
Department of Corrections, who heads the prison system's management team
for the project. "In addition to the dollars saved, telemedicine can
enhance public safety, which is especially important with high-risk inmates."
Using a portable video unit outfitted with tools for performing a physical
examination, prison medical staff can consult with UI physicians miles
away. They can use special scopes to view a patient's ears, throat or skin,
capturing images that are transmitted to the UI. They also can share x-rays
and other information to help with diagnosis and follow-up care.
Since 1995, UI researchers have studied how telemedicine -- the electronic
transmission of medical information and services from one place to another
-- can benefit Iowa communities. Their partnership with the Department
of Corrections marks a new direction for UI telemedicine research.
"Telemedicine has great potential as a statewide resource, providing
rural physicians with access to information and enabling Iowans and their
doctors to confer with specialists at distant sites," says Dr. Michael
Kienzle, associate professor of internal medicine and associate dean for
clinical affairs at the UI College of Medicine. "Working with the
Department of Corrections, we will continue to discover uses for efficient,
cost-effective telemedicine services."
Loeffelholz notes that nearly half of inmate trips to the UI are follow-up
-- or recall -- visits, an area where investigators hope to make the greatest
reduction. "We think that once a person is known by the clinic, many
recall visits can be managed by telemedicine," he says.
The initial phase of the project will focus on orthopedics, internal
medicine and dermatology, the services most frequently used by inmates
during the past year. Surveys administered after each consultation will
assess reactions of UI and prison staff as well as patient satisfaction.