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The Case for Quality in Telehealth Delivery of Care – Part 1

By Walter Panzirer, Trustee for the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and Founding Board Member, American Board of Telehealth

When my grandmother Leona Helmsley died in 2007, the trustees of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust found that 85 percent of the trust’s spending went to health care.

Further research through the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors uncovered data that indicated:

  • 3.5 percent of all private foundations and their monies go to the Upper Midwest in seven states (Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming).
  • Minnesota receives 80 percent of that 3.5 percent of all donations, based on internationally known and Minnesota-based health care providers where patients travel to for care.

With this research, we also learned that these seven upper Midwest states are the most underserved for quality health care in the United States.

As a result of our research, those states became our focus at the Charitable Trust.

It’s Real – the Need for Quality Rural Health Care

I brought the idea of improving health care delivery in the Upper Midwest to the Helmsley Charitable Trust because I had lived and worked with people in rural America who needed better health care.

From my own career as a fire fighter and paramedic on the west coast, I understood the schism between rural and urban America for delivery of quality health care. I also worked as a paramedic in Oakland, California, and beyond, traveling in both rural and urban settings before I transitioned to law enforcement in Sturgis, S.D. Behavioral health became a new focus for me as a police officer because I saw people who suffered from mental health issues sometimes evolved to criminal behavior.

Now, I own a home in a county with just 1,300 people. Like my neighbors, I rely on fewer and fewer clinicians for my basic medical care, a scenario familiar to many in rural America.

Telehealth is the great equalizer when it comes to quality in patient care. During this pandemic, remote patient care has rapidly transitioned from unique to widely used by clinicians and their patients. But, without a standardized approach to understanding and implementing telehealth services, I believe quality will suffer.