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Telemedicine: Addressing HIV and Hepatitis C in Illinois prisons

Dr. Melissa Badowski, Clinical Associate Professor, and Dr. Juliana Chan, Clinical Associate Professor

Dr. Melissa Badowski, Clinical Associate Professor, and Dr. Juliana Chan, Clinical Associate Professor

Since 2010, Melissa Badowski and Juliana Chan have been treating Illinois state prisoners affected by HIV and Hepatitis C with the help of modern video conferencing technology and other high-tech tools. The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) Clinic with UI Health Telemedicine Clinic currently serves all of IDOC’s 26 correctional facilities, providing care to some 600 HIV patients and 100 Hepatitis C patients each year.

While an IDOC physician directs the diagnostic decision-making, Badowski and Chan – HIV and Hepatitis C experts, respectively – take the lead on education and medication plans, providing medication counseling, managing side effects and simplifying inmates’ regimens.

“We’re able to provide care to high-risk individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have had access to it,” Badowski says.

Those efforts have been, in a word, transformative.

Prior to the Telemedicine Clinic’s debut, most Illinois prisons relied on one general practice doctor overseeing care to these vulnerable patients, a practice that often produced inefficient care and exposed other prisoners and correctional staff to health risks. With Badowski and Chan offering specialized care, however, treatment and results have endured a dramatic shift. Prior to Badowski’s arrival, for instance, 58 percent of HIV patients in the IDOC system were virologically suppressed. Today, Badowski’s work has pushed that near 100 percent.

“We’re providing high-quality subspecialty care that has improved quality of life as well as efficacy, safety and treatment,” says Badowski, adding that the Telemedicine Clinic’s efforts have also saved IDOC millions in healthcare costs each year and decreased viral load when individuals leave prison.

In the fast-rising telemedicine field, UIC’s innovative work has emerged a prominent early example of telemedicine’s potential to revolutionize care and spurred other healthcare institutions to develop similar programs.

“We’ve proven ourselves a leader in this growing field,” Badowski says, who, like Chan, regularly presents the Telemedicine Clinic’s work in professional forums.

Badowski and Chan also expose UIC students to the novel world of telemedicine. Both faculty members regularly host UIC residents in their clinics, while pharmacy students can participate in a telemedicine rotation or take an elective course in telemedicine designed to educate students on the intricacies of the still-blossoming service.

“We’re graduating students familiar with telemedicine and have many telling us that it’s proving to be a differentiator for them in the working world,” Badowski says.