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Mobile Women's Health Unit

  • Need: Breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths for the American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) female population, and those living in remote areas have difficulties getting screening mammograms.
  • Intervention: The Great Plains Area Indian Health Service Mobile Women's Health Unit provides mammograms to women on multiple reservations across four states.
  • Results: Approximately 1,000 women are screened annually for breast cancer in the mobile unit.

The Aberdeen Mobile Health Unit While mortality rates have been falling for Caucasian and African American women, they have been rising for American Indian women living on Midwestern reservations. In addition, American Indian women are more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to be diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. To counteract this rising mortality rate and identify breast cancer earlier, the Indian Health Service (IHS) and Great Plains Area Indian Health Service developed a mobile cancer screening unit, called the Mobile Women's Health Unit, to travel to remote areas on American Indian reservations and screen women 40 years of age and over for breast cancer. The mobile unit began operating in March 2006, visiting multiple reservations in Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

The area healthcare facilities are responsible for advertising the date and time of the mobile unit’s visit, as well as scheduling the appointments. Mammogram results are sent to the woman’s local IHS healthcare facility, and if abnormal, further care and referrals for additional services are made.

A close partnership between the mobile health unit and area healthcare facilities is vital to the success of the program, and the Mobile Women’s Health Unit also works to ensure that women with abnormal results receive a continuum of care in order to treat the cancer while it is still in the early stages.

The mobile health unit uses digital mammography technology, allowing the study to be completed in the mobile unit, transmitted to radiologists off site for interpretation, and the findings to be reported back, all within a short period of time. Women with abnormal mammograms are referred quickly for prompt breast healthcare.

The mobile health unit is also unique when the rapid off-site study interpretation suggests follow up images are required. The patient can have the study completed while the unit was still in the area. Often the quick turn-around allowed diagnosis of breast cancer in early stages.

Services offered
  • Free mammogram screenings
  • Referrals to local health units, tribal health facilities, or regional healthcare facilities for women with abnormal screening results

For the past 13 years, the Great Plains Area Indian Health Service Mobile Women’s Health Unit has traveled to 15 different locations on reservations, serving Native American women in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa. Close to 1,000 women are screened annually thanks to the Mobile Women’s Health Unit.


Need for rapid digital radiological interpretation capability.

Contact Information
Suzanne England, MCH/Women's Health Consultant
Great Plains Area Office-Indian Health Service
American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians
Health screening
Mobile and episodic healthcare delivery
States served
Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota
Date added
November 13, 2008
Date updated or reviewed
July 7, 2017

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.