Oregon Officials Secure Funds for Digitizing Inmate Health Records

After years of lobbying the state government for funding, Oregon’s Department of Corrections is getting $3 million from the state’s 2015-2017 budget to digitize inmate medical records. The state currently has 14,600 inmates and maintains the records of over 40,000 former inmates, according to an article in the Statesman Journal.

The process of transitioning inmates from paper to electronic is going to be a slow one, officials told the paper. At first, only new charts and a few inmates with chronic conditions will be added to the digital system, extending the timeline for a full conversion for years. The new electronic system isn’t even expected to be up and running until 2016, according to Steve Robbins, head of the Department of Corrections’ health services division.

Robbins explains that having a paper-only system for inmate records in Oregon is a “logistical nightmare,” because prisoners are frequently transferred around the state to other institutions, and need their health information to follow them. And an inmate’s chart can contain hundreds of pages of documentation, including dental records, mental health records, prescription drug histories, and chronic care documentation, according to the Statesman Journal.

Robbins explained that “Files occasionally go temporarily missing, and people must track down where the chart was last seen. Sometimes they don’t arrive at a prison when an inmate does. Sometimes they are with a different doctor,” the article states.

Additionally, with the Affordable Care Act, inmates are becoming more likely to seek medical treatment before they enter the corrections system, which is why it makes more sense for facilities to retain records about the care inmates received while in prison. But since the records are on paper, staff can end up having to fax 200 pages in response to one request for records, the article explains.

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