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Indian Health Service (IHS) today announced plans to expand telehealth health services across Indian Country to better meet the needs of American Indian and Alaska Native patients.

Expanded services will be delivered through a telehealth platform called AA RingMD, a secure cloud-based network that allows for video meetings between patients and providers. IHS has been working with clinicians and support staff at federal facilities to implement the new system since July 2021, when it awarded a clinical video telehealth contract to AA RingMD.  

AA RingMD is the first telehealth-focused platform that IHS has deployed and will complement Webex, a commercial video-conferencing solution that IHS currently uses for patient visits.    

The new platform will be available across multiple devices and allows for expanded televideo visits in settings such as homes or schools with low broadband availability. The system encrypts audio and video communications to protect patient privacy and personal data, according to IHS. 

Pre-existing rules for the IHS workforce’s use of telehealth will continue with the new platform, and health care providers must obtain the patient’s verbal consent to meet via telehealth. Health care providers must also verify the patient’s identity at the beginning of each encounter and are not authorized to record the session.

“This expansion of telehealth will increase access to care, patient safety, continuity of care, quality of care, and ultimately patient satisfaction,” IHS Director Roselyn Tso said in a statement. “We look forward to being able to reach even more of our American Indian and Alaska Native patients across Indian Country.”

In 2020, IHS expanded the use of virtual care services from a pre-COVID average of under 1,300 per month to a peak of nearly 42,000 per month during the pandemic. For the first time, IHS clinicians could provide services into patients’ homes. The current average is approximately 11,000 per month, according to IHS.

According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report,  IHS allocated more than $140 million in funding from two COVID-19 relief laws to further its telehealth expansion plans: nearly $72 million in CARES Act funding and $70 million in ARPA funding.

 

 

 

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Jenna Kunze
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Staff Writer
Jenna Kunze is a staff reporter covering Indian health, the environment and breaking news for Native News Online. She is also the publication's lead reporter on stories related to Indian boarding schools and repatriation. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Tribal Business News, Smithsonian Magazine, Elle and Anchorage Daily News. Kunze is based in New York.