Tribal Operator of Largest Native American Health System in US Pivots to Telemedicine

Telemedicine offers patients a virtual, face-to-face appointment with a medical provider through a confidential videoconferencing system.

While telemedicine has long been considered a good idea, it is even moreso in this time of emergency. The highly contagious COVID-19 virus has overwhelmed hospitals and endangers the health care workers who are heroically trying to stem the tide. 

Cherokee Nation, home to the largest Native American health system in the country, stays on the leading-edge of health innovation. The Tribe’s health services swiftly pivoted to telemedicine amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

READ MORE: Go Big & Go Home: Cherokee Nation Is Leading the Way in World-Class Healthcare 

“We have accomplished so much in a short period of time. Our health IT and provider teams have been extremely responsive during this process,” said Cherokee Nation Health Services Executive Director Dr. R. Stephen Jones. “Telemedicine services will certainly change our health care system as we address this unique challenge and move forward. We are grateful to all of our employees who have made this possible.”

Expanding its telemedicine technology beyond behavioral health (already within its established practices wheelhouse), Cherokee Nation Health Services now delivers primary care services and some specialty services — including pediatrics, women’s health, behavioral health and infectious disease — via virtual videoconferencing. 

The health services department is also preparing to make emergency, podiatry, orthopedics, physical therapy, speech therapy, diabetes education and dietitian services available through telemedicine technology. 

Since March, over 1,000 patients in Cherokee Nation’s health system have used the videoconferencing technology, and that number is expected to grow in the coming months. The Tribe initiated its teledentistry appointments on April 20.

“Our Cherokee Nation health team is implementing telemedicine services to help us provide care to patients while keeping them, along with our health staff, safe,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “I commend our health team for working tirelessly to design, implement and launch this telemedicine effort quickly and efficiently. This is just one more innovative way we’ve been able to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our Cherokee communities.”