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High-tech health in jails

By Randall Higgins
Chattanooga Times Free Press

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Alabama company that provides health care at the Bradley County Justice Center unveiled an electronic records system Wednesday that officials said will increase security in the jail medical area while improving efficiency.

Quality Correctional Health Care trained jail nurses Tuesday and Wednesday to use the new system.

Michele Terry, QCHC director of quality assurance, was at the jail Wednesday on a routine site visit. She explained the records system and watched the training session.

“Nurses are able to come here to the computer, type the patient’s name in, and then the screen will prompt them to the medications, and they will pull those medications out,” she said, standing in front of a computer screen and keyboard beside a cabinet of unmarked drawers.

Each of the cabinet drawers has a type of medication inside, Ms. Terry said, and are unmarked for security reasons.

“It’s a great system. It helps to remove a lot of human error. It cuts down our medication pass time from about four hours to one hour,” she said. “So it saves a lot of nurses’ time and allows them to see a lot of other patients who are sick.”

The Bradley County Justice Center houses local, state and federal inmates, all of whom are covered by the medical records system. According to the Sheriff’s Department Web site, the Corrections Unit had 417 inmates Tuesday, including 242 local, 79 state and 96 federal.

QCHC founder Johnny E. Bates, who was at the jail Wednesday to see about 40 inmate patients, said the system maintains health records and medication needs for each patient. Nurses spend less time administering medicines, which increases security and safety, he said.

The records also can follow inmates to other institutions or to hospitals, he said.

Dr. Bates said the typical inmate is older these days, creating more health care needs.

A comprehensive tracking system for medicine also can reduce lawsuits, he said.

“We can track medications and ensure they got the correct medication,” Dr. Bates said. “It also goes through the pharmacy. A pharmacist has to approve the medication. So that gives added assurance. So yes, it improves patient safety.”

The system allows the pharmacist in Nashville and Dr. Bates, who lives in Birmingham, Ala., to monitor individual patients in Bradley County.

QCHC’s contract with the county began in July following an intensive search by the county for an inmate health care provider.

The company offers inmates 24-hour care seven days a week, said Sheriff Tim Gobble, so fewer inmates must go off-site after hours for care, such as to a hospital emergency room.

Copyright 2009 Chattanooga Publishing Company