“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.”
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.”