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Teledermatology: How Dermatologists Can Implement and Utilize It During A Pandemic
What is Teledermatology?
According to the World Health Organization: Telehealth is defined as the use of telecommunications and information technology to provide access to health assessment, diagnosis, intervention, consultation, supervision and information across distance. Telehealth includes such technologies as telephones, facsimile machines, electronic mail systems, and remote patient monitoring devices which are used to collect and transmit data for monitoring and interpretation. Under this umbrella of telehealth falls teledermatology, a subspeciality of dermatology. In this subspeciality, telemedicine technologies are used to transfer dermatological information over distance through audio, visual, and data communication. The scope of teledermatology is somewhat limited as it is still very new. Teledermatology services can be: consultations, diagnoses, treatments, and education.
AI and Dermatology
Artificial Intelligence has become a recent trend in teledermatology, and telemedicine in general. One of the most commonly used forms of AI in teledermatology is conversational agents and virtual assistants. These agents work to avoid operational errors if doctors are unavailable for remote visits, when telecommunication links fail, or when patients have scheduling errors. The automated interactions also simplify areas of care for both the patient and provider. For example, patient’s can upload their history and medical problems to the agent, which allows the clinician more time to come up with solutions rather than taking down initial patient information. Other examples of tasks that AI agents perform can include:
- Condition checks and health maintenance
- Answering of health questions and health information
- Voice reminders for appointments, prescription refills, etc…
Telemedicine and COVID-19
Due to the global pandemic, many restrictions have been put into place that prevent patients from going into doctor’s offices. In order for doctors to follow these restrictions and continue to provide the best level of care for their patients, the use of telehealth is necessary. This immediate need for remote care has forced many telehealth restrictions and privacy laws to be lifted so that video conferencing and messaging apps can be used for appointments. With this, many providers are actually seeing immediate benefits from incorporating telehealth services into their practices.
One dermatologist, Joe Kvedar, MD, who has implemented teledermatology into his practice has noticed his patients loving telehealth. He claims, “It’s more convenient, patients are happier, we get the information we need, and we can open up more slots for other patients.” One example of the teledermatology services Kvedar provides for his patients with acne is: they take high-resolution pictures and upload them to their patient portal online. He then evaluates the photos and can create and upload a treatment plan for the patient. These types of services allow providers to prescribe dermatology medication during the outbreak.
Pros and Cons of Teledermatology
Teledermatology Benefits Include:
- Physicians can perform follow-up visits through virtual assistants. This will reduce late appointment and no-show rates and will save the entire office time.
Decreased patient costs
- Patients will no longer have to travel and miss work for the doctor.
Provides more in depth dermatological education
- Online platforms let providers upload resources for patients to educate themselves further on their treatment.
Can expand patient base
- Allows physicians to reach patients outside of their geographic regions.
Teledermatology Cons Include:
Regulations can vary
- Telemedication regulations vary from state-to-state and it can be extremely difficult to be sure that providers are meeting the laws set-forth to protect themselves and patients.
Physical exams are limited and sometimes non-existent
- High-quality video conferencing is sometimes not enough for doctors to be able to diagnose their patients.
Lack of equipment and technology
- Teledermatology services require: software, training, IT staff, purchasing servers and extra equipment. This setup can be too costly and difficult to implement for providers.
Overall, teledermatology can be extremely beneficial to both providers and patients if doctors are willing to invest in the technology.