On the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota, there are tremendous barriers to health care and information. The travel distance, limited roads, harsh climate, and unfamiliarity with urban areas and medical personnel results in many patients delaying or foregoing care. The initial focus of the project will concentrate on diabetes patients; the complications of diabetes can be greatly reduced with early diagnosis and pursuant care. In fact, 90 percent of diabetes-related blindness is preventable through early detection and treatment. This project will create a tele-wellness network involving medical specialists and ambulatory care provided at six satellite clinics, and home health services operated by the Leech Lake Reservation Tribal Council. The project aims to reduce the disparity in access to specialized medical care, facilitate adherence to prescribed home care plans, and increase the ability of the community to access health and wellness information.
In addition to the care of diabetes patients, Tribal and Indian Health Service staff will make presentations about preventative health care in K-12 schools and will use the network to provide educational opportunities for local staff. The clinic staff will provide training sessions on Internet usage at the public library on how to access medical information on-line. A website will be developed to distribute health information within the community. Public safety officials will also use the network to access and distribute information about product safety recalls and environmental hazards.
The project establishes a model by providing a seamless network of health/wellness information for rural Reservation residents. The community it will serve is among the most medically underserved in the nation. Patients often wait 30 days for a scheduled appointment. The situation is further complicated because many persons who live on the Reservation do not seek medical care because they cannot afford to miss work or leave their families without care while they are away. Putting telemedicine technology into local, community hospitals and into the homes of some patients will greatly enhance the provision of health care services on the Reservation by reducing time away from families and jobs. With the network in place, more patients will be able to receive treatment locally instead of incurring the expense of traveling to a major medical center, which for the Leech Lake Reservation community, is over 200 miles away, and usually requires an overnight stay.
A collaboration has been developed with: Regions Hospital, St. Paul, Minnesota; Merit Care, Fargo, North Dakota; St.Luke's Hospitals and Clinics, Duluth, Minnesota; the Indian Health Service, Bemidgi Area; and the Cass Lake Service Unit, Cass Lake, Minnesota. The partnership will work together to address the acute, chronic, and preventive service needs related to diabetic care and education.