Is Intake Screening Getting the Job Done?

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In June I wrote a post about intake screening and how difficult it can be to obtain a full and accurate picture of an inmate’s health status. In spite of the difficulties of the time, place and people involved, a nurse armed with information can still make good decisions about the plan of care for each inmate coming into the facility. One type of information that is useful is knowing the health characteristics of the population served.

The health characteristics of 759 inmates being received into the state correctional system in New York were recently reported in the Journal of Correctional Health Care (July 2015). The data about inmates’ medical conditions was obtained from chart review and information about health behaviors (smoking, etc.) came from individual interviews. There were nearly as many women as men included in the sample (387 men and 372 women). The average age was 35.6 years for women and 33.9 years for men. Eighty percent of the population had less than or equal to a high school education/GED. Given just these findings what are the implications for the nursing plan of care?

One conclusion that can be drawn is that health literacy is likely to be an issue. This means assessing what an individual knows already about a particular health issue and then starting from that point when providing information. Second, this population already has well established behaviors (smoking, sexual practices, use of illegal substances, and other risk taking) but may not yet have experienced the health consequences. Use of motivational interviewing will be a valuable tool to assess a patient’s readiness for change and select behavior change strategies most likely to influence the patient.

The population of men in the New York state prison study was predominately non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic. The majority of women were either non-Hispanic Black or non-Hispanic White. This characteristic will vary from region to region and type of facility. The racial and cultural characteristics of the population being received at the facility are important to know because they are also associated with disease prevalence. For example, Blacks are more likely to experience premature death from cardiovascular disease, while control of hypertension is poorest among Mexican-Americans according to the most recent report from the CDC on health disparities.

Respiratory conditions were the most prevalent chronic disease diagnosed in this population of inmates at admission to prison. Respiratory conditions include asthma, COPD and emphysema and were present among 34% of the newly admitted inmates. A history of smoking and obesity significantly correlated with respiratory diseases.

Cardiovascular conditions, including hypertension, atherosclerosis and heart disease were diagnosed in 17.4% of this population. Obesity was significantly associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Sexually transmitted disease was diagnosed in 16.4% of the population. Women had a higher prevalence of chronic disease than men, particularly greater incidence of diabetes and STDs. It is not clear whether this is because women are more likely to access health care or are more susceptible to certain diseases. Age (40 years of age and older) was also correlated with higher risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Chronic disease was more prevalent in this inmate population than rates for the same disease in the general community. Rates for respiratory disease among the general community are estimated to be 19% compared to this prison population with a prevalence rate of 34%. Diabetes rates were 2.4% in the community among adults the same average age as the prison population. The rate of diabetes among prisoners was 4.9%. HIV disease was 3.5% among newly admitted prisoners while in the same average age group in the general community the HIV rate was less than half of one percent.

The results of this study done in the New York system are similar to those reported by the CDC a year ago. The CDC study looked at the chronic diseases reported by over 100,000 inmates in 606 state, federal and local correctional facilities in the U.S.

What does all this mean to correctional nurses? It is difficult to elicit a full and accurate history from an inmate during intake screening; especially if we are rushed, there are many screenings still to get done and the setting challenges privacy in sharing of medical information. By knowing that 3 of every 10 inmates screened is likely to have chronic respiratory disease helps me evaluate carefully the answers I am getting about the inmate’s medical history and emphasizes the importance of my skill assessing the respiratory system. The same is true for the other common chronic conditions. This doesn’t mean that the other areas of the health appraisal aren’t important, they are. It means that if diseases like diabetes, STDs, respiratory disease and HIV are not identified at about the same frequency as the rates reported for correctional populations then the screening methods should be examined for possible improvement. We all know that early identification of disease means treatment can be initiated that is less costly and burdensome than the emergence of an urgent or emergent medical crisis.

Are the rates of chronic disease tracked at your facility? If so, how do they compare to the rates reported for the New York state correctional system? How do the rates for chronic disease among inmates at your facility compare to the general community? Are there implications of these findings for correctional nursing that go beyond what has been discussed here? Please share your thoughts by replying in the comments section of this post.

For more about the nursing implications of caring for patients with chronic diseases in the correctional setting and the disease burden of this population see the Essentials of Correctional Nursing, especially the first and sixth chapters. Order a copy directly from the publisher or from Amazon today!

Bai, J.R., Befus, M., Mukherjee, D.V., Lowy, F.D., Larson, E.L. (2015) Prevalence and Predictors of Chronic Health Conditions of Inmates Newly Admitted to Maximum Security Prisons. Journal of Correctional Health Care, 21 (3) 255-264

Photo credit: © iQoncept-

One thought on “Is Intake Screening Getting the Job Done?

  1. This article brings out the need to have the receiving process along with the health appraisals to be thoughtful processes with a quality improvement eye so that if you are not getting the information you need from these patient evaluations, that you look at ways to improve the process. Each step from the door to release, are times to identify and treat illness in our patients.


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