A Georgia Non-Profit Looks to Market Telehealth to Rural America

August 06, 2018 - The Global Partnership for Telehealth has launched a new strategy to increase adoption of connected health technologies in rural and remote parts of the country. It’s marketing its own telemedicine solution.

The Georgia-based non-profit, a spin-off of the state’s 12-year-old Georgia Partnership for Telehealth telehealth resource center, recently unveiled Pathways, a web-based videoconferencing platform designed primarily for small and resource-thin healthcare providers, as well as schools and other entities looking to launch a telehealth platform but hesitant to wade into the commercial market.

Rena Brewer, GPT’s CEO, says the software was developed in-house to meet the needs of its more than 600 partners moving from a server to a web-based platform. The idea was to give its members a common telemedicine framework so that they could deliver services and collaborate with others using the same technology.

“But we’re always looking to grow our network,” she says, “and we believe strongly in the non-profit business model.”

Brewer says GPT “never intended to get into the business of developing software,” but the organization wanted a platform that could be embraced by the solo doctor, small medical practice, health clinic, school district, county jail and other entities with little money to spend but a need to expand healthcare access.

She said the organization sent out a request for proposals, but didn’t like what it received.

“We’ve become very frustrated with the telehealth industry as a whole,” she says. “We want to take out the politics and competitiveness.”

In creating its own product, the GPT has to be careful not to be confused with the Southeastern Telehealth Resource Center, run out of the Georgia Partnership for Telehealth offices in Waycross. The SETRC is one of 12 regional and two national resource centers across the country, all of which abide by a strict policy of vendor-neutrality.

But while admitting Pathways is a commercial product, Brewer says she doesn’t see GPT going up against the likes of American Well, Teladoc or the dozens of other telemedicine software vendors on the market.

“We’re a Volkswagen Beetle and they’re all Rolls Royces,” she quips.

Brewer says the telehealth and telemedicine landscape is challenging for small providers with limited resources. Many of the solutions on the market are expensive, and they might create silos that make it difficult to work with other healthcare providers not using the same technology.

“The original intent of telemedicine is that it was geared toward the underserved,” she says. And that means getting the technology out of the large health system or hospital and into the hands of doctors, clinics and other sites in those underserved areas.

With a network of more than 600 healthcare providers in Georgia, Alabama and Florida (and some international programs as well), Brewer says the GPT has the framework set up to push connected health into remote regions. She wants to see more of these networks across the country, coordinated by non-profits.

“Then we can focus on sustainability,” she says.

Brewer doesn’t expect the GPT to develop any more commercial products (the organization does market a connected stethoscope, the TeleSensi, that it developed with a private company earlier this year). She expects the group – which totals 18 employees – will have enough on its hands keeping Pathways up to date.