The Indian Health Service (IHS) is facing major quality issues, and foundational factors exist that are difficult to solve quickly.
According to the New York Times, the Department of Health and Human Services is alleging that the IHS's 28 hospitals are suffering from inadequate physical infrastructure, understaffing, and lack of quality indicators.
Less than a month ago, the IHS announced a broad new telemedicine plan, promising the initiative would improve access across the regions that the IHS serves. But is that telemedicine initiative doomed, given what the IHS is facing? Or could it make a big impact on the system?The IHS is responsible for providing health care services to tribal members, under the government’s treaty obligations to Native American tribes.
The IHS has faced significant challenges for a century. These new issues -- understaffing, physical plant issues that significantly limit providers' ability to work, and capacity and quality issues -- are only the most recent concerns.
That said, the IHS has also been known as an innovator in medicine. As they said in their announcement, "IHS has found that telemedicine can be one of the best ways to get health care services where they are needed most... Telemedicine services use electronic communications to connect health care providers and patients for remote clinical appointments, as well as some nonclinical services." The comments of the Office of Inspector General are here.
We will continue to root for, and advocate for, the IHS as an important center of healthcare in our country. And we applaud the IHS's efforts and leadership in the field of telemedicine.
We also advocate for the IHS to push further and think more deeply about the role telemedicine can play in solving many of the issues they are facing. Specifically, why not use a telemedicine-based healthcare collaboration tool, rather than just doing "virtual visits"? Healthcare collaboration can build capacity on your staff, in addition to enhancing the number and type of patients served.
It sounds like the telemedicine program that the IHS has planned is going to be important, and necessary. But we also hope the IHS will consider telemedicine solutions that will improve access and care, and also increase the capacity of the IHS to serve its population well into the future -- not just in the present.
Get our Quick Guide on telemedicine options here: