Arizona Jail Could Showcase E-Health, but Sticks to Paper as Patients Die

A troubled county jail, where hundreds of lawsuits have stemmed from mistakes in managing the inmates' health information, would be a perfect testing ground for electronic medical records, the Arizona Republic reports. But, Maricopa County officials have ignored recommendation to implement the system, despite the lawsuits, failure to retain accreditation, and $13 million in legal fees, fines and settlements.

The inmates – who have a legal right to appropriate health care – have often not been convicted of crimes, arrive in clusters of about 350 a day, often use drugs and have psychiatric disorders, and in many cases, have not seen a doctor in years despite problems with chronic diseases like diabetes, the Republic reports. And the jail "still relies on paper files and an electronic database designed for jailers, not doctors, to track the physical and mental ailments of its 10,000 inmates" across six facilities.

The Republic relays the story of Deborah Braillard, an insulin-dependent diabetic, who was jailed for five days, gliding in and out of consciousness, a condition guards assumed was related to drug withdraw, before being taken to a hospital where she died. Paper records from a previous visit listed her condition, but the staff didn't check them. "An electronic-medical-record system provides a central database that can be designed to hold any kind of information," the Republic reports. "Files are available to health-care workers across the institution" (Hensley and Wingett, 6/1).

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