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Telehealth Project Aims To Improve Health Care Access for Inland Empire Tribes
by Lauren McSherry, California Healthline Regional Correspondent

May 11, 2015

A health care system serving nine American Indian tribes in the Inland Empire is using telehealth to reach patients in remote areas and address rising rates of diabetes, a particular problem among American Indians.

Riverside-San Bernardino County Indian Health serves nine tribes in the expansive Inland Empire region of Southern California. The region encompasses nearly 30,000 square miles, an area the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Patients who live in rural parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties must travel long distances for health care. Those who live near the Colorado River and in cities such as Needles and Blythe, which lie along the Arizona border, sometimes must travel several hours for specialty care.

“If you think about that vast expanse with an urban corner, it makes all the sense in the world to have all forms of telehealth,” said Mario Gutierrez, executive director of the Center for Connected Health Policy. “Telehealth has always been thought of as a rural tool.”

Indian Health is the largest tribally owned health care system in the state and one of the largest in the West, aside from the Navajo Nation and some tribally owned systems in the Northwest, said Bill Thomsen, chief operations officer. There are more than 50 health systems serving Indians in California, he said.

The health system exclusively serves Indians belonging to nine tribes in the Inland Empire and their eligible dependents. The health care system has seven health centers and 14,000 patients, Thomsen said.

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