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High rate of rheumatoid arthritis among American Indians prompts research partnership

The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation is partnering with the Cherokee Nation and Chickasaw Nation to provide rheumatology care to tribal clinics while also helping scientists better understand the role that race might play in rheumatoid arthritis and related diseases.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: December 18, 2012

Whenever a patient undergoes a blood test, the doctor is looking for certain blood markers that signal which disease the patient might have. But the blood markers that doctors use to diagnose certain autoimmune diseases aren't as reliable in diagnosing some American Indian patients.

“It may not work nearly as well in people who are of Cherokee or Chickasaw decent,” James said. “It makes it harder to diagnose, it delays diagnosis, which means it delays treatment.”

State shortage

Another obstacle in diagnosis is in finding a rheumatologist in Oklahoma. The state faces a shortage, needing an additional 12 to 20 more rheumatologists, James said.

A rheumatologist is an internist or pediatrician who received further training in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and other musculoskeletal diseases, according to the American College of Rheumatology.

But the partnership also has helped doctors at the tribal clinics learn more about rheumatic diseases, helping make that shortage less of an issue.

“We value our partnership with Dr. James and, as a result, have improved the lives of hundreds of patients,” Dr. Fabio Mota, chief of internal medicine at the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center, said in a statement. “These patients are receiving the best treatment available not only in the state of Oklahoma but in the world.”

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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