Inmate satisfaction with health care services during incarceration

 

Customer SatisfactionLast week’s post summarized the results of the most recent survey of inmates’ health published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). This survey also reported on inmates’ experience with the delivery of health care in 606 correctional facilities throughout the U.S. and their satisfaction with services provided. So before we look at those results take a minute to reflect on your encounters with inmates seeking or receiving health care and how they might rate their satisfaction. My experience is that many correctional nursing colleagues think that inmate satisfaction with health care is low, that many inmates fail to appreciate their care and take what care they do receive for granted. What is your opinion about how satisfied inmates are with their care?

What Do Inmates Think? 

According to the over 100,000 inmates surveyed, more than half were satisfied or very satisfied with health care received while incarcerated. In jails, 51% of the inmates in the survey reported being satisfied or very satisfied and in prisons it was 56%of those surveyed (Maruschal, Berzofsky, & Unangst 2015). This information certainly bursts the stereotype that inmates don’t value the health care they receive during incarceration! Most inmates do appreciate it. Further evidence is found in another survey done recently in a maximum security prison; the vast majority of prisoners in poor health prior to prison reported that their health had improved during incarceration (Yu et al. 2015).

Identifying Opportunities for Improvement 

Patient satisfaction has long been recognized as a valid tool in quality improvement. Often it is only through a patient’s eyes that we can see opportunities to improve patient outcomes or make the experience more supportive of health attainment. Information about patient satisfaction can provide insight into the perceptions and expectations of patients, one important part of the larger picture of a program’s performance. For example, in the Oregon DOC, one of the questions we used on a patient satisfaction survey was whether follow up appointments after nursing sick call were timely. We expected that inmates would be dissatisfied when wait times were more than a day and found out we were wrong. Even wait times of up to one week were rated as satisfactory.

The results of a patient satisfaction survey conducted in the Connecticut prison system revealed much the same results as that reported in the national survey by the BJS. Forty-three percent of 2,727 inmates surveyed (or 16% of the total population) reported satisfaction with their health care; this was considered “better than expected” by some of the health care staff in the system (Tanguay, Trestman & Weiskopf 2014). There was no difference in satisfaction scores based upon gender (male or female) or the type of facility (maximum security, work camp etc.).

The survey developed in Connecticut consisted of ten questions derived fundamentally from Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). There were ten topics that inmates were asked their opinion about. These are listed below:

General satisfaction with care Respect for privacy
Access to care is satisfactory The provider listened
Waiting time in the clinic is short The provider is competent & well trained
The provider introduced themselves The provider explained their findings
Treated in a friendly & courteous manner The patient knows what to do to get better or take care of themselves

The article pointed out that to ensure a good response rate questions were written at the fourth to fifth grade reading level, were limited to ten in number and used only three response categories (yes, no and unsure). Although the survey was anonymous, inmates were reluctant to participate at first but this changed over time as inmates came to understand that the survey was intended for program improvement, was indeed anonymous and therefore participation was “safe”.

Important Findings From the Feedback 

Feedback on inmate satisfaction was discussed with health care and correctional staff at each facility and at a statewide level. Satisfaction with each of the ten measures varied. The results and the ensuing discussion were used to identify areas for focused program improvement. For example access to care was rated as satisfactory by 45% of the inmates surveyed. Areas that made access to care difficult included appointments that were dropped because of facility to facility transfers which required inmates to re-request services. Automation of inmate scheduling was discussed as a way to eliminate this problem with access. Other areas that were selected for improvement included explanations for the patient about what the problem is and their treatment options and productive use of time spent waiting while in the clinic (Tanguay, Trestman, & Weiskopf 2014).

Correctional Nurses’ Role in Quality Improvement

Standard 10 of the Correctional Nursing Scope and Standards of Professional Practice provides guidance for correctional nurses’ contribution to quality. Competencies include participation in the evaluation of clinical care and service delivery, correcting inefficiencies in the process of care delivery, identifying and weakening barriers to quality patient outcomes (American Nurses Association 2013). Satisfaction surveys can provide useful insight into the experiences and expectations of our patients. Some patients may be receiving very good health care and still be unsatisfied but taken in the aggregate inmates tend to rate health care received during incarceration very positively. Consider conducting patient satisfaction surveys at your facility if you haven’t used this feedback method yet; you and other health care staff are likely to be pleasantly surprised.   Satisfaction survey results also provide information that can help focus on the areas of the patient’s experience that greatly impact health outcomes, as the report from Connecticut illustrated.

What Is Your Experience and Advice? 

Have you sought feedback from inmates at your facility about their satisfaction with health care? If so, was your experience with the results similar to that reported by the BJS and for the Connecticut prison system? Do you have copies of the survey questions that were used and if so will you share by responding in the comments section of this post?

For more on the nurses’ role in quality improvement see Chapter 18 Research Participation and Evidence-Based Practice in the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. You can order a copy from Springer Publishing and get $15 off as well as free shipping by using this code – AF1209.

References

American Nurses Association (2013) Correctional Nursing: Scope & Standards of Practice. Silver Springs, MD: Nursesbooks.org.

Institute of Medicine (IOM) (2001) Crossing the quality chasm: A new health system for the 21st century. Washington DC: National Academies Press.

Maruschal, L. M., Berzofsky, M., & Unangst, J. (2015) Medical Problems of State and Federal Prisoners and Jail Inmates, 2011-2012. Special Report. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Tanguay, S., Trestman, R., & Weiskopf, C. (2014) Patient Health Satisfaction Survey in Connecticut Correctional Facilities. Journal of Correctional Health Care 20 (2); 127-134.

Yu, S-s. V., Sung, H-E., Mellow, J., Koenigsmann, C.J. (2015) Self-Perceived Health Improvement Among Prison Inmates. Journal of Correctional Health Care 21 (1); 59-61. 

Photo credit: © bahrialtay– Fotolia.com

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