Telehealth reaches the American frontier

Milton HooperMilton Hooper (left), Environmental Specialist at the Goshute Indian Reservation, reviews plans for the reservation

The Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation are the latest recipients of telehealth services

For the residents of an isolated Native American community perched on 112,870 acres of grassland and desert along the border of Nevada and Utah, healthcare will soon be available at the click of an icon.
 
The Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation – a couple hundred descendants of the Shoshone-Goship people, who settled the area long before Columbus set foot on American soil – are the latest recipients of telehealth services being arranged by TruClinic, a Salt Lake City-based company that's piloting the service in several locations across the West.
 
For the Goshutes, whose name is derived from the native word Kutsipiuti, which means "desert people," the reservation is a home and a way of life, a collection of farms a full 70 miles from the nearest town of any size and 200 miles from a good-sized city.
 
[See also: Private payers look to telemedicine.]
 
"When I first visited, they had no Internet access of any kind, and (few) had ever seen an iPad," said Justin Kahn, TruClinic's founder and CEO. "Nonetheless, Goshute tribal elders quickly saw the potential for video conferencing to serve the needs of the tribe, and were just as quick on the technology uptake. Now each Goshute household will receive free Internet access for the first year as we roll out the platform."
 
TruClinic, which launched in Salt Lake City in 2010 as a developer of cloud-based telehealth solutions, is using technology grants from the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development to bring healthcare to this remote region. A first grant awarded in 2012 linked the tribe to Arnold Thomas, a chaplain and member of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes who provides mental health counseling to Native Americans across North America. A second grant, awarded in June, is being used to provide free, satellite-based Internet service to all homes on the reservation, thus linking them to the TruClinic telehealth portal.
 
"TruClinic is the next evolution in effective healthcare delivery," said former U.S. Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah), who now chairs Bennett Group International and is helping TruClinic expand in both the public and private sectors. "TruClinic's revolutionary technology has made mHealth available to everyone, regardless of location. It extends the reach of healthcare providers, opening up new possibilities for patient engagement and interaction. It is an extension of the brick-and-mortar clinic without the limitations."
 
Kahn, who grew up in and around VA clinics around the nation, sees the Goshutes as an ideal test-bed for remote telehealth. They're one of 525 confederated Native American tribes in North America, many of which face barriers to healthcare access that range from geographical to cultural to financial.
 
[See also: Telemedicine for reproductive health.]
 
"Tribal and remote populations get it right away," said Kahn, "but so do urban populations who would rather not spend hours for seven minutes of face-time with their physician. My passion is to provide a service that eliminates as many barriers of entry as possible into telehealth, with the goal (being) to increase all kinds of patient access to care."