Arizona county jail to deploy EMR system

Maricopa County officials will spend $10 million to implement an EMR system, which will help document and manage medical data for its thousands of jail inmates. The county has tied EMR capabilities to efficiency and better clinical outcomes. This is a good story to inspire other jail and prison systems, and healthcare providers that are still on the fence about EMRs.

In Maricopa County, inmates died because of mismanagement of health data. Millions of dollars were paid out in settlements. The Correctional Health Services lost its accreditation, which would have helped protect the county from lawsuits, after three years on probation for not meeting national healthcare standards. It sounds like a vicious circle.

Interestingly, consultants to the Board of Supervisors and Correctional Health Services (CHS) recommended an EMR, as did a federal judge. The money for the EMR system is already there in the form of a voter-approved jail tax. Why the supervisors did’’t act on the recommendations is a mystery. They signed a contract in 2007 to buy a $5 million, actually paid out about $218,000 but still didn’t follow through. Do the math: $10 million upfront investment versus $13 million dollars in lawsuit costs and loss of accreditation, and dozens more lawsuits pending. It took an angry judge’s order to light a fire under the supervisors to get going on the purchase and implementation.

The CHS director said that while they weren’t expecting the EMR system to be a “silver bullet,” it would help manage such things as their movement and whether or not they had their medication. It’s helpful that CHS is going into the process with realistic expectations. While it will take another six months before the budget is approved and the vendor is selected, it’s a step in the right direction to fix the problem once and for all. What’s happening in Maricopa County could be a lesson for other county jails.

How is the healthcare delivery in your county? I’d be interested to know if the problems Maricopa County is facing is the same in county jails across the country. Does your county jail have an EMR system for its inmates? If so, how is it working?