Telehealth has long been an integral component of many health systems, and has become even more critical in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. As more discussions arise surrounding its benefits, telehealth has the potential to expand and help more populations of people looking for care, including justice-involved individuals.

Correctional facilities, and justice agencies in general, are unique in their relationship to healthcare, which is as important as it is complex. But as the world becomes more digitized and technology continues to rapidly evolve, telehealth in justice agencies, such as prisons and intervention programs, will also need to evolve and expand access to high-quality patient care where it is usually lacking.

Current Uses for Telehealth

Telemedicine

Prisons and jails usually do not have large quantities of healthcare providers working onsite, and transferring to off-site facilities is logistically and financially straining. Virtual appointments help solve this issue and many of the other complexities surrounding the accessibility of healthcare in justice agencies. In addition to requiring fewer resources, the option to remotely talk with a healthcare provider allows providers to speak to more patients and to speak to them sooner, ultimately improving health outcomes by shortening delays or eliminating them completely.

Mobile health (mHealth)

Mobile health is particularly beneficial to individuals who are in intervention programs or have been recently released from prison. With mHealth, patients who still require some level of supervision have greater access to technology compared to if they were incarcerated. Mobile health apps are an effective way to engage justice-involved patients with disease management and recovery programs and help them adhere to those programs. The ability to independently engage with one’s own treatment also empowers the individual, helping to reduce recidivism.

The COVID-19 pandemic & telehealth

Despite their often isolated location, justice agencies are not safe from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, justice-involved individuals have been some of the hardest-hit populations, and most agencies have completely eliminated in-person appointments and programs due to how fast the virus spreads in confined spaces. Telehealth services have not only helped alleviate some of these issues, but have also been a valuable tool for individuals everywhere that are seeking care. This power has put telehealth at the forefront of conversations about care delivery moving forward, including within the criminal justice system.

Looking Forward

Forms of telehealth have already been used in justice agencies for decades, with telehealth visits being especially common. However, there are still many questions to answer and obstacles to overcome. For example, agencies, and prisons in particular, may hesitate to utilize updated technology due to the potential for misuse. Another possible issue: Because telehealth has cost-saving potential, this may cause agencies to encourage virtual visits when in-person visits are needed.

But despite the challenges, the pandemic has made the benefits of telehealth undeniable, and there are many ways telehealth can be used further to support justice-involved patients, including virtual 12-step programs and virtual family and peer support. As technology evolves and as discussions around healthcare in the criminal justice system become more prevalent, we’ll likely see new advancements in telehealth within the criminal justice space.

iTether & Criminal Justice

iTether’s comprehensive telehealth platform is helping to pave the way for greater access to care and better healthcare outcomes within the criminal justice system. Patients, healthcare providers, and supervisors can connect with each other and access the information they need within a single tool, not only improving workflow efficiencies but also improving the level of service provided to the patient. Healthcare for justice-involved patients will continue to be highlighted as an important human rights issue, and platforms like iTether are ready to help.