Since the occurrence of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been an intense increase in demand for telehealth services. Because of this, the Federal Communications Commission granted funding to health care providers across the country through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. Included in these health care providers were Missouri centers SSM Health and Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, as well as Burrell Behavioral Health with locations in central and southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also changed some of their restrictions to allow over 80 new types of services be offered and relaxed rules regarding the technology that could be used to conduct telehealth visits.
Included in these health care providers that have been making pivots towards telehealth is dentistry. The onset of the pandemic has allowed for a new industry to rise, teledentistry. Since, The TeleDentists, a Kansas City-based startup, has seen its business grow substantially.
“We’ve grown thousandfold,” president and co-founder Maria Kunstadler said. “From March to the end of April, we had thousands of calls come in.” TeleDentists provided a way for people to continue their dental consultations during a time when less people wanted to leave their home. They were able to address many dental concerns in a remote setting while also connecting patients with providers if they needed in-person services. Kansas City’s TeleDentists has partnered with over 300 dentists across the United States.
The expansion of new telehealth services is particularly beneficial to patients in rural areas, who often have to commute long distances to visit medical specialists in larger cities. “Telehealth gives patients living in rural areas access to more providers, which leads to reduced readmission rates, effective management of chronic diseases and increased patient satisfaction,” Lea Studer, director of marketing and communication at Golden Valley Memorial Healthcare said. “It also allows patients to receive care in their own communities, instead of traveling long distances.”
However, while the rise of telehealth services has been very beneficial to those in rural areas, they still face some problems. The low quality of internet is a big obstacle in some parts of the state. In July, Gov. Mike Parson extended the Missouri Broadband Grant program through 2027. This program works to bring high-speed broadband to people across the state, with a focus on providing service to rural areas. In addition, Parson allocated $50 million in CARES Act funding to improve high-speed internet service across the state in the interest of increasing access to telehealth and remote learning.