Better Access, Better Care: Ohio Addresses Health Care Professional Shortage

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Ohio still lags in terms of health care, placing 35th in the U.S. News & World Report 2019 rankings. The report used three categories as a basis: health care access, health care quality, and public health. In each category, Ohio was on the latter end of the list, except for access where it placed 20th.

One of the state’s most pressing issue is the lack of health care professionals for dental care, primary care, and mental health. Currently, 81 out of the 88 counties in Ohio have a partial or full designation as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) according to the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration. These counties are facing a lack of primary care providers, especially in rural and underserved areas.

Ohio has the following pending bills that can potentially alleviate its shortage in healthcare professionals.

Senate Bill 98: Establishing Licensing of Dental Therapists

Sponsored by state senators Peggy Lehner and Cecil Thomas, the Senate Bill 98 proposal will create a new mid-level license for dental therapists (DTs). This allows them to perform basic dental and preventive services under the supervision of a licensed dentist. This means you can go to a dental clinic in Columbus, Ohio, for example, and get a root canal treatment from a dental therapist. DTs used to be confined to preventive and restorative dental care.

Current Ohio laws prohibit anyone except licensed dentists from performing dentistry, limiting the supply of oral health care in the state. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are 145 dental HPSAs in Ohio as of June 30, 2019.

Also, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) found that Ohioan children bear the brunt of this crisis; 17 percent of the state’s third-graders have untreated cavities. Children from low-income families and those without insurance policies have twice as many untreated dental problems.

Emergency rooms throughout the country have seen a significant increase in dental pain cases, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Most hospitals don’t have the staff or facilities to provide comprehensive dental care, so the patients only receive temporary pain medication. Allowing dental therapists to perform more advanced oral care services can ease this problem.

Apart from solving the lack of dental health professionals, Ohio also has a pending bill to address its insufficient number of primary care providers.

House Bill 177: Better Access, Better Care

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This General Assembly bill will give advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) and clinicians independence from doctors. APRNs diagnose and treat diseases as well as prescribe medicine. But under House Bill 177, they can practice advanced services, including preventive and primary care.

APRNs have masters or doctoral level education, proving they are capable of more advanced healthcare services. This bill gives Ohioans access to the full range of skills that nurse practitioners have, which may improve the overall health care quality in the state.

Ohio currently has 153 primary care HPSAs. House Bill 177 has the potential to increase the number of healthcare professionals in the state, especially in rural areas where scarcity is most prevalent.

Although these two bills are still in the preliminary stages, they represent the state’s steps toward making healthcare more accessible. And hopefully, Ohio will take many more steps in ensuring better quality healthcare services for its citizens.