TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Cherokee Nation Health Services is increasing its use of telemedicine and teledentistry by remotely connecting patients with medical care through videoconferencing, helping to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 and other contagious diseases.

Telemedicine offers patients a virtual, face-to-face appointment with a medical provider through a confidential videoconferencing system. Using this technology, many patients can receive routine care from the comfort of their home.

Since March, over 1,000 patients in the Cherokee Nation’s health system have used the videoconferencing technology, and that number is expected to grow in the coming months. The tribe will begin offering teledentistry appointments on April 20.

“Our Cherokee Nation health team is implementing telemedicine services to help us provide care to patients while keeping them, along with our health staff, safe,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. “I commend our health team for working tirelessly to design, implement and launch this telemedicine effort quickly and efficiently. This is just one more innovative way we’ve been able to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our Cherokee communities.”

Cherokee Nation Health Services previously used telemedicine practices in its behavioral health department before expanding its use in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each Cherokee Nation health center now uses telemedicine technology for primary care services and some specialty services, including pediatrics, women’s health, behavioral health and infectious disease.

“We have accomplished so much in a short period of time. Our health IT and provider teams have been extremely responsive during this process,” said Cherokee Nation Health Services Executive Director Dr. R. Stephen Jones. “Telemedicine services will certainly change our health care system as we address this unique challenge and move forward. We are grateful to all of our employees who have made this possible.”

Cherokee Nation Health Services is also preparing to make emergency, podiatry, orthopedics, physical therapy, speech therapy, diabetes education and dietitian services available through telemedicine technology. 

“Telemedicine is essential to avoid unintended spread of this easily transmissible virus via patient-to-patient and provider-to-patient contact. Many treatment interactions do not absolutely require physical contact. Telemedicine is the cornerstone for continued care for patients in this unfortunate scenario our world has found itself in,” said Dr. Brett Nelson of the Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center in Stilwell. “It cannot completely replace physical interactions, especially related to procedural and critical care, but it can provide safe care for many issues. From colleagues who have discussed use with me, patients are enjoying the process and are appreciative of us helping to keep them safe.”

Patients of the Cherokee Nation health system who are interested in setting up a telemedicine appointment should contact their Cherokee Nation health care provider. When establishing a virtual appointment, a staff member will guide patients through the process. Patients looking to use telemedicine technology will need access to a computer or smartphone with video capability and internet connection.

For teledentistry appointments, call 539-234-2800. Most virtual dentistry appointments will be same-day, based on volume and availability. As with telemedicine services, patients must have access to a computer or smartphone with a camera and internet connection.

Patients who are planning an in-person visit to a Cherokee Nation health center, whether for a pre-scheduled appointment or a drop-in visit, should first call the facility. Patients will also be given the option to set up a virtual visit with a provider.

For more information on Cherokee Nation Health Services, visit health.cherokee.org/. Patients can also visit the new patient portal for the latest COVID-19 updates as well as to access medical records and to communicate with a provider by visiting health.cherokee.org/patient-portal/.