In the age of COVID-19, telemedicine has become a normal part of our daily lives, effectively changing the way that dermatologists serve their patients and how they approach dermatology. But wait a minute - what exactly is the difference between a telehealth visit and a regular in-person visit to the doctor? For starters, a telehealth visit can be conducted via phone, video chat, or even email! In other words, telemedicine gives rise to the use of digital mediums of communication in order to help patients. This is groundbreaking and allows patients to be served more easily.
The History of Telehealth Usage in Dermatology
Dermatologists are not strangers to the use of telemedicine in dermatology. In fact, the use of telehealth services for dermatological care dates all the way back to the year 2000. These services were made available to members of the U.S. Army, thanks to the help of Dr. Darryl Hodson and Dr. Hon Pak. They felt the need to provide virtual care since they had previously observed a lack of dermatological care for American soldiers who were serving in Bosnia in the 1990s. During this time, dermatological concerns had been addressed via the inefficient method of emailing photos. From there, dermatologists at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center would review the photos of the soldiers’ skin issues and conditions and give them a personalized treatment plan.
But ever since the introduction of Dr. Hodson and Dr. Pak’s telehealth platform, American soldiers and their families have been able to receive over 50,000 consultations in total. And it’s all thanks to their hard work. These two doctors took it upon themselves to invest in the people and equipment needed to run effective telehealth services, and it’s apparent that their efforts have paid off.
Using Telemedicine in Dermatology
How exactly does telemedicine work when it comes to dermatology? These appointments can be conducted over the phone or via video chat, and patients may even be able to use email or their patient portal in order to communicate their particular skin concerns through text or photos. One useful website for virtual dermatology is DermatologistOnCall. But the list doesn’t end there! There’s also DirectDerm, FirstDerm, Online Skin Specialist, and many others. As you can see, there are many platforms available for dermatologists to meet with their patients.
Just because there’s a computer (or smartphone) between you and your patient, that doesn’t mean that you cannot still provide dermatological care in a way that is comparable to providing treatment in person. For instance, you can still provide examinations in order to ensure that any issues relating to the skin, hair, or nails are detected right away. Rashes, acne, eczema, psoriasis, spots, and moles - all of these are fair game for a telehealth visit! Medication and treatment can still be given for various skin conditions. Impress upon your patients the importance of utilizing telemedicine whenever they have dermatological concerns, as telehealth visits are just as effective as in-person visits when it comes to preventing a health problem from becoming worse.
The Benefits of Virtual Care in Dermatology
There are many benefits to caring for your patients virtually. For instance, you will be able to serve patients who live a considerable distance away from you - not just the ones who live close by. In addition, it will be more convenient for you to provide care from home, rather than needing to embark on a cumbersome, time-wasting commute. Once you try it, you won’t be able to go back to the traditional way of meeting patients in person.
There are also benefits for your patients, of course. Patients who live a great distance away and would otherwise not be able to access your services will now be able to meet with you at the click of a button. The elderly or those who have illnesses that leave them housebound will especially appreciate the convenience of virtual appointments. In this way, virtual dermatology appointments can give your clients a better way to receive care.
When to Book an In-Person Appointment
While telehealth visits are certainly helpful, there are some situations in which it would be best for your patients to book an in-person appointment instead. For instance, biopsies and surgeries can certainly never be done through a virtual platform or over the phone. A full-body skin exam, or skin cancer screening, also needs to be done in person. Also, any exam that requires the dermatologist to feel the patient’s skin will require an in-person visit. If conducted virtually, a dermatologist will not be able to detect skin abnormalities, such as moles and spots that indicate potential skin cancer. In addition, lab tests, cosmetic procedures, topical chemotherapy, laser surgery, and emergency care are only some of the types of medical care that cannot be provided virtually.
In addition, some patients may simply not be well versed when it comes to technology. This can be a barrier to them receiving virtual care. There could also be instances where patients’ health insurance plans only cover the cost of in-person visits. In such cases, having them come into the office for a visit would be a better option. None of this is meant to dissuade you from incorporating virtual visits into your practice, however - knowing which situations do and do not call for in-person care will enable you to provide the best possible care for your clients.
The following video offers an example of an online dermatologist appointment. In this video, watch as a dermatologist shares his screen while he digitally updates the patient’s medical background, and observe closely as a patient explains her concerns and is diagnosed and given the proper treatment.
All in all, telehealth is more than useful in the field of dermatology. In this new era of great technological advancements, dermatologists should embrace all that video conferencing platforms have to offer for them and their patients. Thanks to this new technology, dermatologists can reach patients in faraway places and provide a more convenient and satisfying patient experience. If this is how beneficial virtual dermatology services are currently, it can only get better from here as technology advances even further.