Avera Health, a Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based health system will provide telemedicine services for seven hospitals and eight health centers within the Indian Health Service (IHS), as part of $6.8 million contract.
Avera Health will expand its telehealth network to serve the 130,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives as part of the IHS network in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa.
According to an announcement from IHS, which is an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the contract will expand existing IHS services for patients by enabling its facilities to offer additional specialty services and appointments to improve patients’ access to healthcare services.
The IHS provides a health service delivery system for approximately 2.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives.
As part of the contract, Avera Health will provide telemedicine services across all 19 Great Plains Area service units, which includes seven hospitals, eight health centers and several smaller health stations and satellite clinics.
Under the contract, Avera Health will be providing additional emergency medical services at hospitals in the Great Plains Area as well as providing additional access for American Indian and Alaska Native patients to see specialists in the areas of behavioral health; cardiology; maternal and child health; nephrology; pain management; pediatric behavioral health; rheumatology; wound care; ear, nose and throat care; and dermatology.
“IHS has found that telemedicine can be one of the best ways to get health care services where they are needed most, and this contract expands telemedicine services as a means of strengthening access to care at IHS health facilities in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota,” the agency said in the announcement.
“It is challenging to provide specialty health care in rural areas, and this is especially true in Indian Country. IHS has long been a leader in information technology and electronic health records, and IHS experience shows that telemedicine is an effective way to increase access to quality health care services in remote, hard to reach areas,” said Mary L. Smith, IHS principal deputy director. “This contract is beneficial to IHS patients because it connects Avera Health’s medical experts to American Indian communities as part of a major IHS initiative to improve access to quality care at hospitals, health centers and other facilities in the Great Plains.”
Some IHS facilities in the Great Plains Area already have the infrastructure in place to provide telemedicine services for behavioral health and diabetic retinopathy screening for patients right now. This new contract to Avera Health builds on that expertise and will provide additional telemedicine services to serve more patients. IHS works collaboratively with tribal leaders to deploy telemedicine services that respond to the needs of patients and communities.
The contract has a maximum value of $100 million in total over five years, should additional resources become available.
According to IHS, the agency has a long history of using telemedicine to provide patient care. The IHS TeleBehavioral Health Center of Excellence was established in 2009 to provide behavioral health services for patients across the Indian health system. The Center works to provide, promote and support the delivery of high quality, culturally competent telebehavioral health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The IHS Teleophthalmology Program as established in 2001 to screen IHS patients across the country for diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness in patients with diabetes.