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Indian Health Service The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives

Clinical Engineering

In 1973, the IHS Biomedical Engineering Program was established.  Biomedical Engineering technicians serviced medical equipment in all IHS health care facilities.  The rapid evolution of medical instrumentation had to be monitored to comply with accreditation standards of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAH, now known as JCAHO).

The Department in 1998 recognized that many practitioners who were interested in telehealth and telemedicine had no idea what other practitioners were doing to reduce patient isolation from specialty medical care (diabetes management, specialty eye care, heart and circulation care, wound care, post surgery care, etc).  DHHS indicated that many programs using telemedicine to address these needs were proliferating in isolation of other programs without even themselves knowing what was or was not working.  Consequently, DHHS conducted a survey and inventory known as the Federal Telemedicine Directory (1998).With the prices of telecommunications and medical technology dropping significantly, as well as the maturation of the World Wide Web, we are seeing in Indian Country health programs installing and benefiting from telemedicine.  However, there is no coordinated effort to bring programs together to share ‘lessons learned’ with other existing or new programs to understand what is being installed and their effectiveness in addressing geographic isolation and enhancing health delivery effectiveness.

The IHS has thus become a clearinghouse for dispensing and sharing information about telemedicine related activities in Indian country.  Telemedicine is diminishing geographic and economic barriers and providing real value to Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.

The Indian Health Service is moving rapidly in deploying state-of-the-art technology to bring primary care and specialty medicine to remote locations to reduce geographic barriers between remote, smaller communities and health care providers.   For example, clinical engineers are now equipping small remote villages in interior Alaska with telemedicine systems to provide transmission of digital images of patients’ ear drums, skin conditions, and even tonsils to distant health care providers.  Telemedicine also enables small rural communities to communicate during emergencies with social workers through video conferencing when transportation is difficult or impossible (especially in blizzard conditions in South Dakota).  Currently, there are about forty telemedicine programs and partnerships within the IHS that are delivering care to smaller, more isolated communities.

  • Clinical Engineering
  • Funding of Equipment Purchases for Existing IHS and Tribal Facilities
  • Funding of Equipment Purchases for Tribal Replacement Health Clinics
  • The National Defense Authorization Act of 1995, Section 8032 of Public Law 103-335, created the opportunity for PROJECT TRANSAM.  PROJECT TRANSAM is a Civilian-Military Cooperative Action Program between the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD) concerning distribution of medical equipment and supplies obtained from closure of military bases and installations.