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What Is the Indian Health Service?

The Indian Health Service (IHS) is a federal agency within the Department of Health and Human Services that provides comprehensive health care services to nearly two million American Indian/ Alaskan Natives. The IHS is an integrated national health care delivery system consisting of 35 hospitals, over 300 health centers, and approximately 1,000 physicians across the country.

The IHS is the most prominent provider of health care services to the AI/AN population. It faces several challenges, including:

  • Delivering care in remote areas of the country
  • Limited availability of specialty services
  • Historical underfunding compared to other federal health care programs
  • Difficulty recruiting health professionals, with a nearly 20 percent vacancy rate among physicians.

Despite limited resources the Navajo Nation and Indian Health Service do an impressive job responding to the healthcare needs of Native Americans. But they need help. The mission of the Brigham and Women’s Outreach Program with Indian Health Service is to improve the health status of the Native American population by matching the critical needs of IHS with volunteer specialists from the BWH. Through our collaboration with the Navajo Area IHS, we are increasing the number of patients receiving care that may not been previously available, and expanding the capacity of IHS physicians to treat both common and complex conditions.