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March 28 - Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center partners with Georgia Partnership for Telehealth to help rural physicians

Savannah Business Journal Staff Report

March 28, 2020 - The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center at Mercer University School of Medicine and the Georgia Partnership for Telehealth (GPT) are joining forces to offer rural physicians six free months of GPT’s new web-based telehealth consultation software.

The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center is empowered by a State of Georgia grant to support and assist rural physicians, providers and hospitals and improve healthcare access for rural Georgians. 

“This viral pandemic represents a tremendous need for care in areas of the state that are already desperately underserved,” said Jean Sumner, M.D., F.A.C.P., dean of Mercer University School of Medicine.

The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center sought out and is facilitating the delivery of quality telehealth at no cost to physician practices in rural Georgia. Looking for ways to assist patients in rural areas of the state while supporting the healthcare workforce in these areas, the Center’s staff reviewed several platforms. As a result of this review, the center reached out to GPT. 

With technical support from GPT, the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center will make the telehealth consultation software easily available to rural physicians across the state. The Center’s project managers were trained on the system and began assisting practices in signing up for this service on March 25.

Enrollment begins by calling or emailing the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center at (478) 301-4700 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. An account, at no charge to the rural physician, will be promptly established, and appointments for patients can begin immediately.

“The system is incredibly simple, safe, sustainable and high-quality,” said Chris Scoggins, director of health policy and operations at Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center.

“These were criteria that we felt were required,” added Dr. Sumner, “and we were able to mitigate the cost through the state grant.

“This telehealth system provides a very simple, secure and private method for patients to receive care from their doctors without having to come to the office or a healthcare facility. It can be accessed through a phone, tablet or computer. I tested it on my phone, in my car sitting next to the Oconee River bridge in Wilkinson County, and the quality was superb.”

“The telemedicine platform will allow state-of-the-art care and afford the patient convenience,” said Wentzelle Kim Kitchens, M.D., who practices internal medicine and sleep medicine in Sandersville. “The COVID-19 pandemic makes telemedicine a more urgent need. We may help patients more efficiently without putting our staff at risk by evaluating and treating remotely. In the event an office visit is needed, we are able to assess the risks and needs prior to arrival.”

The software, called Pathways, is able to connect a patient at home on a computer or mobile device to a doctor within a few clicks of receiving an email. 

GPT, Georgia’s statewide nonprofit telehealth network, was founded in 2004 and has focused on clinic-to-clinic telehealth for much of its history. Within the past year, the organization developed a web-based platform, which doesn’t require installation of any additional software and operates on an encrypted, HIPAA-compliant network. 

Earlier this week, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released new guidelines for telehealth, broadening access to its services so that beneficiaries can receive care without traveling to a healthcare facility. Among the guidelines, a patient’s home is now among the approved originating sites for a telehealth visit.

GPT unveiled its direct-to-consumer product this week and was engaged by the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center to make this technology free to physicians who practice in rural areas or treat rural patients for the next six months.

“The coronavirus outbreak is the likely tipping point for telehealth,” said Rena Brewer, CEO of GPT and the Global Partnership for Telehealth. “We’re clearly at a crisis with the delivery of health care, and the need to think innovatively and to leverage telehealth technologies is greater than ever before.” 

“The Georgia Partnership for Telehealth is one of the largest nonprofit telehealth providers in the country,” said Dr. Sumner. “Their quality is outstanding. Through the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center, the Georgia Partnership has been able to offer this service to rural physician practices. Citizens in rural Georgia deserve and should expect the same quality of care of any patient, and GPT is known for providing the highest quality of telehealth technology you can access.”

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