Maricopa to Introduce Electronic Record-keeping
(08/17/2010)

PHOENIX — Maricopa County lawmakers plan to invest up to $10 million in an electronic records system in an effort to improve substandard inmate healthcare services and record keeping.

The multimillion-dollar plan, which has the unanimous backing of county supervisors, is included in the county's 2011 budget proposal, according to reports. Maricopa County Correctional Health Services provides medically necessary, integrated healthcare, both medical and mental, at the county's six jail facilities.

The centralized electronic records system will provide easy access to an inmate's complete medical history and up-to-date details of conditions, treatments and medications, which will facilitate continuity-of-care imperatives during incarceration and following release back into the community.

In the absence of an electronic records system, inmate medical information is rarely comprehensive, current or readily accessible to staff, and is scattered throughout the system in a combination of limited-access computer files and traditional paper files, officials say.

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Deployment of EMS will also allow medical staff to monitor and manage infectious diseases, and to classify and house inmates appropriately, officials say. The system also will allow medical staff to document trends, track outcomes and measure healthcare delivery and services performance.

The deployment of the electronic records system is viewed as central to the county's efforts to achieve and maintain accreditation for county jail facilities, with accreditation documenting the county's compliance to meet national standards of healthcare delivery.

The county jail system, which has settled a number of inmate lawsuits, is under a federal court order to improve healthcare delivery that is fundamentally undermined by inadequate recordkeeping and substandard management of inmate medical data. In the 12 years since 1998, the county has handed over about $13 million in compensation awards, settlements and legal fees in jail healthcare-related lawsuits.

Once lawmakers approve the budget and spending proposals, the county could issue a request for bids - which is expected before the end of the summer, officials say. Officials will fund the new system through a voter-approved jail tax that will also be used to finance capital improvement projects in the jail system.

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