Telemedicine grant offers diabetic Indians opportunity to receive annual eye screening

Sacramento 23 October 2000An innovative telemedicine programme which will bring state-of-the-art eye screenings to diabetic American Indians throughout California has been launched by the California Telehealth & Telemedicine Center (CTTC). The programme, funded by a $1.2 million, two-year grant from The California Endowment, the state's largest health foundation, will enable the urban and rural Indian health centres to perform diabetic retinopathy screenings through high-speed telecommunications lines.

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A 1998 survey by the California Area Indian Health Service revealed that only 39 percent of diabetic American Indians received the recommended annual screening. If left untreated, diabetic retinopathy may lead to severe visual impairment and blindness. According to Susan Dahl, who is health systems development director at the California Rural Indian Health Board, the use of telemedicine to detect and treat diabetic retinopathy constitutes a significant health care advancement for at-risk American Indians.

"Many American Indians living in California face numerous barriers which prevent them from having access to this important screening procedure", stated Mrs. Dahl. "Lack of reliable transportation, and long distances between Indian populations and health care providers are among the principal challenges facing these patients in obtaining speciality care."

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nine percent of the American Indian population suffers from diabetes. American Indians are 2.8 times more likely to be diabetic than non-Hispanic whites. In comparison, African Americans and Mexican Americans respectively are 1.7 and 1.9 times as likely to be diabetic than non-Hispanic whites.

"The California Endowment is pleased to fund this important health care programme for California's American Indian community", stated programme officer Lynn Alvarez, who added that it supports the mission of The California Endowment to improve access to health care for underserved and multi-cultural communities.

CTTC will administer the programme on behalf of The California Endowment. Funds will be awarded to local urban and rural Indian health programmes across the state, based on proposals submitted to CTTC. In order to ensure the programme's success, CTTC has convened multiple partners including the California Rural Indian Health Board Inc. (CRIHB), Los Angeles Eye Institute (LAEI), California Area Indian Health Service (IHS) and Dennis Rose and Associates. Additionally, an American Indian advisory committee will provide cultural and operational input.

The California Endowment has been formed in 1996 to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities, and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians. The Endowment has regional offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento and Fresno with programme staff working throughout the state. The Endowment makes grants to organisations and institutions which directly benefit the health and well-being of the people of California.

The California Telehealth & Telemedicine Center is a not-for-profit organisation affiliated with the California Healthcare Foundation and Trust. Funding for CTTC comes from The California Endowment and the James Irvine Foundation. CTTC's mission is to improve and expand telehealth and telemedicine programmes in medically underserved communities across the State of California.


Leslie Versweyveld

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