Kristen Kessler, MD, MPH: Advancing Telehealth in Times of Crisis

Kristen Kessler.

As insurers lower barriers to telehealth amid the coronavirus pandemic, Kristen Kessler (MNLEND, 2015–17), MD, MPD, is making strides in supporting children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities.

A developmental-behavioral pediatrician, Kessler is now assessing children via telehealth for autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, genetic disorders, sleep disorders, elimination disorders and complex neurodevelopmental and behavior disorders. She practices at HealthPartners Regions Behavioral Health in Lake Elmo, MN.

“Telehealth has quickly become central to my day-to-day patient encounters,” she said. “The barriers of identifying a platform that met criteria for privacy and coverage, having insurance cover the visits by video or telephone and having the patient be in a particular location have been eliminated. This has allowed me to continue to see my patients and also see new patients that need urgent support.”

Kessler knew those previous obstacles well, not only as a practicing clinician, but also as a LEND Fellow. For her policy-based LEND project, she performed a literature review of the utilization of telehealth in developmental-behavioral pediatrics. She also explored the current legislation related to telehealth services.

“The LEND experience was a great way to connect with other professionals working with families of children with neurodevelopmental disorders. I continue to partner with some of my colleagues from LEND to provide care for my patients as I refer them for services, medical or dental care and supports.”

Her goal has been to utilize telemedicine to expand the reach of the developmental-behavioral pediatric field throughout the state and beyond for families who experience significant challenges with clinic visits due to travel, changes in routine and behavior.

Moving forward, Kessler said she is encouraged by the progress made in telehealth during the pandemic and believes it could create lasting change for families living with disabilities.

“I’m hopeful this new opportunity will also help me expand my work with children with neurodevelopmental disabilities in underserved areas,” she said.