The United States has the world’s highest rate of incarceration. Clinicians practicing outside of correctional facilities receive little dedicated training in the care of patients who are incarcerated, are unaware of guidelines for the treatment of patients in custody, and practice in health care systems with varying policies toward these patients. This review considers legal precedents for care of individuals who are incarcerated, frequently encountered terminology, characteristics of hospitalized incarcerated patients, considerations for clinical management, and challenges during transitions of care.
The Eighth Amendment of the US Constitution mandates basic health care for incarcerated individuals within or outside of dedicated correctional facilities. Incarcerated patients in the acute hospital setting are predominantly young men who have received trauma-related admitting diagnoses. Hospital practices pertaining to privacy, physical restraint, discharge counseling, and surrogate decision-making are affected by a patient’s incarcerated status under state or federal law, institutional policy, and individual health care professional practice. Transitions of care necessitate consideration of the disparate medical resources of correctional facilities as well as awareness of transitions unique to incarcerated individuals, such as compassionate release.
Conclusions and Relevance
Patients who are incarcerated have a protected right to health care but may experience exceptions to physical comfort, health privacy, and informed decision-making in the acute care setting. Research on the management of issues associated with hospitalized incarcerated patients is limited and primarily focuses on the care of pregnant women, a small portion of all hospitalized incarcerated individuals. Clinicians and health care facilities should work toward creating evidence-based and legally supported guidelines for the care of incarcerated individuals in the acute care setting that balance the rights of the patient, responsibilities of the clinician, and safety mandates of the institution and law enforcement.
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Haber LA, Erickson HP, Ranji SR, Ortiz GM, Pratt LA. Acute Care for Patients Who Are Incarcerated: A Review. JAMA Intern Med. 2019;179(11):1561–1567. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.3881
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