Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Economic modelling of telehealth substitution of face-to-face specialist outpatient consultations for Queensland correctional facilities

Monica Taylor A , Liam J. Caffery A , Paul A. Scuffham B and Anthony C. Smith A C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Centre for Online Health, The University of Queensland, Ground Floor, Building 33, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Woolloongabba, Qld 4102, Australia. Email: m.taylor2@uq.edu.au; l.caffery@uq.edu.au

B Centre for Applied Health Economics, Griffith University, 170 Kessels Road, Nathan, Qld 4111, Australia. Email: p.scuffham@griffith.edu.au

C Corresponding author. Email: asmith@uq.edu.au

Australian Health Review - https://doi.org/10.1071/AH17135
Submitted: 5 June 2017  Accepted: 4 October 2017   Published online: 28 November 2017

Abstract

Objective The provision of healthcare services to inmates in correctional facilities is costly and resource-intensive. This study aimed to estimate the costs of transporting prisoners from 11 Queensland correctional facilities to the Princess Alexandra Hospital Secure Unit (PAHSU) in Brisbane for non-urgent specialist outpatient consultations and identify the cost consequences that would result from the substitution of face-to-face visits with telehealth consultations.

Methods A 12-month retrospective review of patient activity at the PAHSU was conducted to obtain the number of transfers per correctional facility. The total cost of transfers was calculated with estimates for transport vehicle costs and correctional staff escort wages, per diem and accommodation costs. A cost model was developed to estimate the potential cost savings from substituting face-to-face consultations with telehealth consultations. A sensitivity analysis on the cost variables was conducted. Costs are reported from a government funding perspective and presented in 2016 Australian dollars (A$).

Results There were 3539 inmate appointments from July 2015 to June 2016 at the PAHSU, primarily for imaging, general practice, and orthopaedics. Telehealth may result in cost savings from negligible to A$969 731, depending on the proportion, and travel distance, of face-to-face consultations substituted by telehealth. Wages of correctional staff were found to be the most sensitive variable.

Conclusions Under the modelled conditions, telehealth may reduce the cost of providing specialist outpatient consultations to prisoners in Queensland correctional facilities. Telehealth may improve the timeliness of services to a traditionally underserved population.

What is known about the topic? Specialist medical services are located in only a few metropolitan centres across Australia, which requires some populations to travel long distances to attend appointments. Some face-to-face specialist outpatient consultations can be substituted by telehealth.

What does this paper add? Prisoners from correctional facilities represent one specific population that requires complex travel arrangements for specialist medical appointments. Transportation of prisoners for specialist health appointments represents a substantial cost to the government. This paper quantifies the annual cost in Queensland for transporting prisoners, taking into account fuel and vehicle costs, staff wages, per diem rates, and accommodation. In addition, it quantifies the costs of substituting face-to-face consultations with telehealth consultations.

What are the implications for practitioners? This research encourages practitioners to consider using telehealth services for prisoners, as well providing an argument for tertiary centres to include telehealth as a model of care for this population. Telehealth can result in major cost savings and state and federal governments should consider implementation especially in Australia where correctional facilities and specialist services are separated by great geographic distances.


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