Caring for Incarcerated Patients: Can it Ever be Equal?

J Surg Educ. 2021 Jul 18:S1931-7204(21)00163-X. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2021.06.009. Online ahead of print.


BACKGROUND: Incarcerated patients represent one of the most vulnerable populations in the United States healthcare system. Studying disparities in care they receive, however, has been difficult due to a history of abuse at the hands of medical researchers rendering this population excluded from most current medical research. Due to incarceration, these patients are frequently maintained in shackles and under constant guard when receiving healthcare. There is a paucity of literature on the influence these measures exert on healthcare workers and the care they provide. Our study aimed to measure surgical trainee’s perception of health inequities and disparities in incarcerated individuals undergoing surgical care.

METHODS: An anonymous cross-sectional survey was administered at our single institution to all general surgery trainees assessing perceptions in delivering care to incarcerated patients within our hospital system. The survey consisted of 10 items, nine of which were yes or no responses, and 1 open-ended text question. Survey results were averaged, and percentages were reported.

RESULTS: Of all current general surgery residents (n = 60), 40 (66%) completed the survey. Almost all respondents (n = 39, 97.5%) have cared for a patient that was incarcerated or in police custody. Most respondents (n = 25, 62.5%) have operated on an incarcerated patient with an armed guard present in the operating room. Similarly, most respondents (n = 26, 65%) have cared for a patient intubated and sedated that was shackled to a bed. The majority of respondents (n = 30, 75%) recalled incidents where a trauma patient was actively questioned by law enforcement during the primary/secondary survey during initial trauma evaluation. At the time of hospital discharge, a quarter (n = 10, 25%) of respondents reported being unable to prescribe all of the medications that a non-imprisoned patient would receive with the same condition. In addition, 18 (45%) respondents felt they were unable to arrange outpatient follow-up with physical or occupational therapy and/or the patient’s primary/consulting physician due to patient’s incarcerated status. Strikingly, half of respondents (n = 19, 47.5%) believed that the incarcerated patient received substandard care, and the majority of respondents (n = 28, 72%) agreed that the holding areas for incarcerated patients in the emergency room provide substandard patient care.

CONCLUSIONS: The current status of caring for incarcerated patients within our system represents an urgent and needed area for quality improvement. Surgical trainees report difficulty caring for these patients, and they perceive these individuals receive substandard care. Though our cross-sectional study did not assess the origin of this disparity, the challenges trainees face in caring for incarcerated patients, from assessment to diagnosis and treatment, as well as in follow-up signals an area requiring further research and study.

PMID:34284945 | DOI:10.1016/j.jsurg.2021.06.009

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