Over the weekend of March 21, I was fortunate enough to travel to Denver, Colorado for the 2014 American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Annual Meeting. Though I arrived at the conference Friday morning, the exhibitor floor did not open until Saturday, leaving me with the entire day to roam the seemingly endless halls of the Colorado Convention Center and attend any number of presentations for both aesthetic and medical dermatology.
One of the most interesting presentations of the day occurred in the e-Dermatology and iDermatology 2.0 symposium, where Dr. David Wong who works at Direct Dermatology, a completely online dermatology clinic spoke about the emerging use of teledermatology.
Teledermatology refers to the delivery of dermatological services using telecommunications technology. The two primary modalities are: i) store-and-forward, which involves sending a picture of the affected area of the skin to the specialist and ii) live-interactive, in which the specialist consults with the patient through a live video stream.
While telemedicine is not unique to dermatology, there are a number of features about dermatology that make it well-suited to this new approach. First, there is a shortage of dermatologists in the US. As a result, derms are often overscheduled and must frequently make decisions regarding which patients will receive the largest benefit from an in-person consultation. Through store-and-forward teledermatology, specialists can make quick assessments of patients conditions before determining whether an in-office visit is necessary.
In addition, visual examination plays a significant role in diagnosing dermatological conditions. In fact, it's been shown that assessing a patient remotely has little bearing on a dermatologist's decisions regarding patient management. One study focusing on the store-and-forward modality found that teledermatologists and inpatient dermatologists completely agreed on a diagnosis 82% of the time, and partially agreed 88% of the time.
While teledermatology will not go all of the way to addressing the shortage of this specialty group in the US, it has immense promise to improve patient management and minimize lengthy wait times for patients. In addition, given the growing role of minimally invasive aesthetic procedures in dermatological practices, it's conceivable that teledermatology will be used in the aesthetics space in the not-too-distant future.