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Indian Health Service: The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives
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Improving Health Care with Technology

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Margo Kerrigan, M.P.H., Area Director
Indian Health Service California Area Office

As the national debate on health care reform moves forward, there is almost universal agreement on one aspect: technology will be central to improving health care. In the California Area, we've embraced the challenge of modernization. Together with tribal health programs, we're working towards realizing the vision of our new administration in many ways:

Electronic Health Record (EHR): 14 California Tribal programs are now using.EHR, and the California Area Office (CAO) is working with other programs preparing for implementation. The EHR provides an easy-to-use graphical user interface for the Resource Patient Management System (RPMS) database system.

Electronic Dental Record (EDR): K'ima:w Medical Center just successfully beta tested the EDR in our Area.

VistA Imaging: VistA Imaging, the multimedia component of the EHR, is on the way. VistA was adopted from the Veterans Health Administration by the IHS in 2006. VistA Imaging allows EHR users to view scanned documents and clinical images (photos, radiographs, etc.) that are attached to a patient's record. It also has a Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) for the long-term storage of images in secure archives.

Telemedicine: While the idea of telemedicine has been around for awhile, it is now expanding into more areas of health care. The CAO has recently installed a video conferencing bridge and content storage server. This, combined with video conferencing equipment at tribal health program sites, will allow remote consultations between health providers and patients, as well as meetings between health programs and CAO staff.. Further, the training necessary for health program clinical, business office, and IT staff to stay current in their fields can now be conducted by either live video conferencing, or through recorded content.

Health Information Security: A key to the success of this technological leap forward is our ability to protect and secure health information. The CAO has adopted a comprehensive security approach, and participates in an ongoing process of security certification and accreditation.

California tribal programs have been extremely helpful by signing Interconnection Security Agreements (ISAs) with the IHS. With this congressionally mandated requirement satisfied, the CAO and tribal health programs know that federal law protects the confidentiality and availability of patient records.

Servers and Database Management Systems: Another important technological gain for California has been the migration of patient records to new servers and the Ensemble 2008 database management system. The programs that have already migrated have commented on the improved performance.

The commitment of the CAO staff, and the agility and motivation of tribal programs in adopting technological solutions, will ensure a bright future for the health care of California native people.

Read more about technology in the IHS healthcare industry:

IHS, RPMS EHR Website: http://www.ihs.gov/CIO/EHR/

IHS EHR GUI Deployment Status around the nation: http://www.ihs.gov/CIO/EHR/index.cfm?module=gui_facilities

IHS, VistaImaging Website: http://www.ihs.gov/vistaimaging/

IHS Recovery, Overview of ARRA: http://www.ihs.gov/recovery/

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