Chattanooga Muni Network Trials Telemedicine for Subscribers

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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You can’t have great effective telemedicine without strong Internet connections, the stronger the better. In the other camp, community broadband network owners (cities, co-ops, WISPs, rural ISPs) need creative marketing strategies to ensure their financial sustainability. However, especially among this qualities and co-ops, they may not be used to operating in a competitive environments.

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Luckily, there are telemedicine vendors and community network owners stepping up to become trailblazers by establishing marketing partnerships with each other. They are discovering there might be gold in them thar cyber hills.

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Chattanooga, others makes their mark in telemedicine

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Chattanooga is living up to its broadband pacesetter image. “We’re very interested and committed to participating in this telemedicine market, and are evaluating our options,” says Katie Espeseth, Vice President of EPB Product Development.

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The public utility that runs Chattanooga’s network is particularly impressed by a vendor whose app would allow EPB subscribers to meet online with their personal doctor rather than a randomly selected doctor they may never see again. What’s particularly groundbreaking is the vendor’s revenue sharing arrangements with public and private network owners.

Spark Fiber, a private ISP in Flint, Michigan saw two benefits of supporting a partnership with telemedicine vendor Docity. After state government officials actions left Flint citizens poisoned by lead in the water system, the State tried to make amends by offering free doctor visits for kids in affected neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, even when physician services are offered free, the logistics of low-income people working two and three jobs makes it difficult to take advantage of the service. Telemedicine powered by gig Internet service was a solution to enable those doctor visits.

The second benefit is using telemedicine apps to drive network sales. Jeremy Bowers, Spark Fiber CEO, says, “We are currently working with Docity to deploy their services to early adopters on our network.  This gives us a great look at how adding this product to our line up impacts individual subscribers’ quality of life as well as encourages new sign ups.”

Several co-ops are testing both the marketing potential of partnering with telemedicine vendors and the potential to deliver telemedicine services and products as benefits to their members, including Anza Electric Cooperative. “Telemedicine is the new frontier,” says General Manager Kevin Short. “I know several people who have to monitor their health. Highspeed access is critical to their wellbeing and we are enabling that on a daily basis.”

We should expect the wireless ISPs to get on board as well. Matt Larsen, owner of WISP Vistabeam, believes there is a definite need for telehealth technology. “A number of healthcare facilities in rural areas are struggling to survive, particularly health clinics. By linking those facilities with hospitals in the bigger cities, people can have the benefit of specialists without having to drive hours.” And of course, popular services that help increase subscribers are always welcome.

Chattanooga’s history of pushing healthcare envelope

It should not be a surprise that Chattanooga is bullish on telemedicine. Radiologist Dr. Jim Busch is one of the city’s premier medical business stories. He brought the city’s radiologists under one organization, Diagnostic Radiology Consultants. Radiologists connect through the city-owned gigabit networks to the other team members and to the city’s hospitals.

Dr. Busch wrote software to enable his group to deliver new services. The Chattanooga’s network and software together allow the team to serve more hospitals and patients, grow and expand the business, and create another hook that draws individuals and businesses to town.

The network enables the radiologists and medical facilities to save 40 hours per radiologist. 40 hours represents a sizeable dollar savings. Dr. Busch also stated that it is not uncommon for more than 10 radiologists to be sending multiple files simultaneously that each are 80 – 100 megabits in size.

Dr. Busch says, “You either have applications that move small amounts of data for every transactions, but may generate thousands of transaction every minute. Or you have applications that only do a few transactions a day, but each transaction is a monster and you don’t need many users to max out the network.”

The city has also dabbled in medical device manufacturing – in the library.

A Chattanooga Public Library patron happens to have a little boy who doesn’t have arms or legs. Luckily Ezra Reynolds is a design specialist for Signal Centers, which helps disabled people live full and independent lives. Reynolds uses the Chattanooga Library’s 3D printer to build prosthetics for his son as he grows. Reynolds returns to make changes or to design replacements.

Library patrons in smaller communities can form workgroups with people such as Reynolds, doctors and medical manufacturers to manufacture certain devices – but it helps significantly if they have highspeed broadband.

It’s not far-fetched imagine other municipalities armed with highspeed broadband and creative constituents to duplicate Reynold’s efforts. A man in South Africa and a prop designer in the US worked together to build the Robohand, a prosthetic hand using MakerBot’s Thingiverse platform for design and a Replicator 2 desktop 3D printer. It’s a mechanical hand, completely 3D printed for much cheaper than a traditional prosthetic would normally cost.

Stay tuned for more telemedicine news coming out of Chattanooga in the upcoming months.

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